When she was a teen singing at bar mitzvahs and weddings, singer Idina Menzel only dreamed of starring in concert like her idol Barbra Streisand.
More than 25 years later, Menzel, who has arrived as a bona fide concert star, is performing in concert at two Canadian stops in Toronto and Montreal on the heels of her recent hit Let It Go from the movie Frozen.
After receiving critical acclaim from audiences and critics since she made her debut on Broadway in Rent in 1996, Menzel has had a meteoric a rise as an artist in a few short years, as Streisand did in the late ’60s.
Many of Menzel’s Jewish fans feel she is the next big Jewish icon in music, much like Bette Midler and Streisand, with a long career in music predicted for her over the next 25 years.
“Idina really connects to her audience. Her stage presence is inviting and warm. While many vocalists are difficult to understand, Idina’s voice is as clear as a bell and a pleasure to listen to,” said Linda Kaplan of Hollywood, Fla., who was a professional singer prior to her career in medicine.
“Idina has also grown and matured as a singer over the three years I have seen her live in concert. Her voice is rounder and fuller now,” Kaplan said.
In a phone interview, Menzel said it’s an honour to be compared to Stresisand. “I have always looked up to her. In fact, I love singing Don’t Rain On My Parade and did so at the Kennedy Center’s tribute to her, as I often tell in concert.”
Besides Let It Go, Menzel is also expected to sing her hit songs Defying Gravity, which she sang when she starred in the Broadway musical Wicked, and No Day But Today, from Rent.
Her love of Broadway standards will also include a few songs paying tribute to Ethel Merman, with There’s No Business Like Show Business included in a four- song tribute.
Born in New York and raised in Long Island, Menzel was 15 when her parents divorced. To help support her mother, Menzel worked as a bar mitzvah and wedding singer before getting her big break by playing Maureen in Rent.
Menzel followed her breakthrough role in Rent by starring as Elphaba, the green-skinned witch in Wicked, winning the 2004 Tony Award for best actress.
Along the way to Broadway fame, Menzel’s big, belting voice was also heard on records. She had a hit song in Gorgeous from her 2008 CD.
As is the case with many Jewish popular music artists, Menzel recorded a Christmas CD last year and made it clear in her interview that recording Christmas music had nothing to do with affinity to Christianity.
“I am Jewish. I am recording Christmas music that was made by Jewish composers because they write beautiful songs. If Barbra Streisand can make a Christmas album, I can.”
Menzel married African-American actor Taye Diggs in 2003 and divorced him in 2014. She has a son, Walker, who is five.
“I am a Jewish woman. I feel strong connections to my culture and heritage, although I don’t define myself as religious. Now that I am a mom, I am struggling with how Jewish I want to be. Walker in time will choose what he will be in the future.”
Like Streisand, Menzel worked with Marvin Hamlisch, who was the musical director of Menzel’s concerts until he died in 2012.
Many Torontonians will remember Menzel’s last concert in Toronto in November 2011, which Hamlisch conducted for her at Koerner Hall. The concert was taped live for a PBS television special that was also made into a CD/DVD titled Barefoot At The Symphony.
At Hamlisch’s funeral at Temple Emanuel in New York, Menzel sang his favourite song, At The Ballet, from his Broadway musical A Chorus Line.
“Marvin was a friend, a mentor and a second father to me and I still miss him to this day. To have shared the stage with such a legend will forever be a highlight of my life,” said Menzel.