Preview: Idina Menzel & Picnic with the Pops

  • Robin Wong photo
By Columbus Alive
From the June 21, 2012 edition

Some people will always think of Idina Menzel first and foremost as the sultry performance artist in “Rent” who suckled from a giant, invisible udder and urged her audience to moo with her. Some associate Menzel more with her second giant role — the green and misunderstood “Wicked Witch” Elphaba in “Wicked” — and others simply know her as the demanding former coach of the glee club Vocal Adrenaline on “Glee.”

Whatever the Tony-winning Broadway actress means to you, hearing her perform at the Columbus Commons is sure to leave a lasting impression. The Columbus Symphony’s Picnic with the Pops series deserves props for bringing in a guest performer who is at the top of her game. Considering that she originated roles in two of the most popular musicals in recent history, Menzel could well go down in the books as one of the biggest theater stars of our time.

The actress and mother of a toddler has spent the past several years touring the country and making occasional appearances on “Glee.” To her, the experience of performing with a new orchestra in a dozen cities is no different from returning to the same Broadway stage each day.

“It’s all about performing on stage in front of a live audience. It’s all the same to me. It’s the same adrenaline feeling,” Menzel said during a recent call from her tour bus. Touring has its perks, though: “I get to try different music and the audience really gets to know who I am personally, as opposed to a character.”

Her current tour kicked off following the release of her album “Idina Menzel Live: Barefoot at the Symphony.” But she toured the setlist from that recording for a year and a half beforehand, so she decided to revamp the list of show tunes and pop hits for this round of performances. Count on hearing her chat with the audience between her renditions of songs from “Rent” and “Wicked,” as well as one song she wrote herself, but she’ll throw in some surprises, too.

“For me, the concerts that I love the most are the ones where you walk away feeling like someone let you into a little window of their soul,” she said. “I feel like it’s my responsibility to make myself vulnerable on stage and be as honest with my audience as possible.”

Although Menzel was just cast as a lead in Disney’s animated flick “Frozen,” she’s eager to return to the stage in new productions based off original source material.

“I very much want to get back. I’ve missed it so terribly,” she said. “I’ve positioned myself to be in different pieces of work — productions that I’m part of the creative process with the writers. Hopefully in the next year or two I’ll be back.”