Tony Award-winning Idina Menzel is in a class of performers who simply defy description. She has an extraordinary quality that must be experienced up close and personal, for it's not only the tremendously dynamic voice that impresses but a wildly disarming charisma that holds you spellbound. On New Year's Eve her 7:00 pm show at the Walt Disney Concert Hall lasted about 90 minutes, but seemed to fly by in a flash. No lulls, nothing draggy here, just good 'ole down to earth humor from a nice Jewish girl, who, by her own account, needs to cut the curses! Barefoot, in a low-cut brown/white/black print full skirted gown, she made an athletically bold entrance dashing down from upstage,then skipped and danced gracefully around the two sections of the orchestra as she sang her opening combo of "Over the Rainbow" - which she began offstage, and "The Wizard and I" from Wicked. Whereas Kristen Chenoweth, who decked the hall on New Year's Eve 2010, did a complete program of original compositions, Menzel stuck mostly to familiar material, to what she knew would please her fans. Constantly talkative and uplifting, like an endearingly mischievous Pied Piper or Peter Pan leading her pack, she gave the tunes from Wicked and Rent a fresh and thrilling spin, as if she had never sung them before.
Menzel brought a lot of creativity to the fore. I have never heard/seen "Don't Rain On My Parade" from Funny Girl divided into two sections. In a deliciously daring move, she sang half the song, then proceeded to talk about her impossible New Year's resolutions, like "be less self-involved", then finished the number at the zenith of brazen egocentricity. Quite the dramatic three act play! Another standout moment was her lovely tribute to Marvin Hamlisch. In a beautifully quiet moment she sat on a piano bench, as she had done many times over next to him, like a little girl looking up to her father, and sang "What I Did For Love" from A Chorus Line, gently touching the area of the bench where he would have sat. A nice surprise was the appearance of her heartthrob husband actor Taye Diggs briefly joining her onstage for a duet of "Where or When". There was also a great audience participation segment where Menzel went into the audience and did "Take Me or Leave Me" from Rent with three volunteers who all happened to sing well, but were by no means plants. The spontaneity here was contagious, a whole lot of fun. She followed with another loving tribute, this time to Rent's composer Jonathan Larson with his melodically meaningful "There's Only Us".
Other highlights of the evening included: Joni Mitchell's reflective "Both Sides Now", Cole Porter's sizzling "Love For Sale", Cy Coleman's tuneful "The Best Is Yet to Come" and of course, more from Wicked: "For Good" and "Defying Gravity". Menzel did essay a couple of original compositions one of which was simply gorgeous "It Was I". Rob Mousey served as conductor at the piano throughout, leading a harmoniously grande 26 piece orchestra.
This was a unique way to spend New Year's Eve. Menzel offers a musical program that includes what her fans want to hear, yes, but it's also laden with one delightful surprise after another. The gifted Idina Menzel has been rightfully wowing audiences in concerts coast to coast and hopefully will continue to do so for many, many years to come. I overheard a few young girls saying as they were leaving the theatre "She was awesome!" I hate how overused that word has become. But...in Idina Menzel's case, it truly fits.