TORONTO — Tony-Award winner Idina Menzel has really blossomed into a star after working for close to a decade as a bar mitzvah singer. Starting as a teen and continuing into her 20s while finishing her bachelor of fine arts degree at Tisch School Of The Arts in New York, Menzel honed her talent at synagogues before finding fame on Broadway.
Now 40, Menzel has been a star on Broadway and the concert stage for the past 15 years. She will be in Toronto on Nov. 17-18 for two shows in concert with famed composer Marvin Hamlisch leading the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra at Koerner Hall. The shows will be taped for a PBS television fundraising special.
Since leaving her gig as a bar mitzvah singer, Menzel has starred on Broadway in both Rent and Wicked, winning the 2004 Tony Award for her portrayal of Elphaba, the green-skinned wicked witch, as best actress of the year.
Along the way to Broadway fame, Menzel’s big, belting voice also was heard on records. She recorded four CDs, wrote many of her songs and had a hit in Gorgeous from her 2008 CD I Stand. Menzel's large vocal range has been often compared by music critics to that of Barbra Streisand.
“I always had belief in my talent and my years singing at bar mitzvahs helped me get confidence that I would feel comfortable on my stage. I also loved writing songs since I was a teen and feel blessed with my life,” said Menzel in a phone interview.
Menzel will be singing Defying Gravity from Wicked, Gorgeous, as well as selected Broadway standards in her two 90-minute one act concerts.
Born in Queens, N.Y. Menzel’s parents divorced when she was 15, and shortly after began her tenure as a bar mitzvah singer performing with many bands at various New York area synagogues. Following her graduation from Tisch in 1995, Menzel auditioned to play Maureen, the bisexual character on Rent and has never stopped working since.
Her other Broadway credits include performances in Aida, Hair, and The Vagina Monologues among other productions. On the concert stage, Menzel has performed with the Boston Pops, New York Philharmonic, and in London last month again with Marvin Hamlisch conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
She plays Shelby, a recurring character on the television series Glee, when not on the Broadway or concert stage.
Menzel is married to actor Taye Diggs since 2003 and they have a two-year-old son Walker.
“I am a proud Jewish mother, even if I did not grow up with a strict religious upbringing. Now, things are different since I became a mom. There are a lot of synagogues and temples that welcome intermarried couples and my son will learn his traditions from both his parents. Walker in time will choose what he wants to be.
“I hope in time to perform in Israel, as soon as my schedule will allow and maybe finally do my bat mitzvah,” added Menzel.
Menzel performs in concert Nov.17-18 8 PM at Koerner Hall in downtown Toronto with Marvin Hamlisch conducting the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra. For tickets, call 416-408-0208 or go to www.idinamenzel.com