On Sunday night at Vina Robles, Broadway star and vocal powerhouse Idina Menzel delighted the audience not only with her soulful singing, but also with intimate glimpses into her life. During the 90-minute concert she bared her soul on romantic relationships, motherhood, and life as a performer.
Menzel’s new album, “Idina,” provided the foundation of the experience. Starting with the energetic “Queen of Swords,” Menzel set the vocal expectations high, both literally and figuratively. The song featured a strong African-inspired drumbeat and a pre-chorus that ascended into the vocal stratosphere, prompting delighted cheers from the audience.
The Broadway songstress also showed off her musical theatre chops, inviting the crowd to join her on fan favorites such as “Seasons of Love” from “Rent,” where Menzel had her breakout role as Maureen. “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from “Funny Girl” showed her enviable vocal control, pairing lightning-quick delivery with full, resonant belting. She had the crowd on its feet, screaming with delight as she reprised her role of Elphaba in “Wicked” with “Defying Gravity.” Through each of these numbers, Menzel demonstrated that she continues to be one of the most impressive voices in the musical world, holding notes for impossible amounts of time and demonstrating a vocal range that most only dream of.
Menzel wisely surrounds herself with talented musicians, and just as wisely provided them with multiple moments to shine. Lead backup vocalist, Vanessa Bryan, took this opportunity to wow the crowd during a cover of Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady.” Menzel’s other two backup vocalists, who double as string players, played extended cello and violin solos that were impressive, to say the least.
Aware of the mixed crowd that attends her concerts, Menzel provided something for everyone. Songs like “Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin and “Dear Prudence” by the Beatles made an unexpected appearance, along with Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady.” The former and the latter showed just how broad Menzel’s musical range is, as she vocally morphed into hard rock and R&B with ease.
Menzel’s show wasn’t all about powerful vocals, though. She balanced the show with a number of intimate, introspective moments in word and in song. An acoustic version of “I’m Not that Girl” from “Wicked” showed a more tender Menzel. She exposed this side further in “Perfect Story,” which detailed her heart-wrenching decision to end her marriage in the interest of showing her son the “kind of love that you deserve.” These more tender moments provided the crowd with insight into who Menzel is: an immensely talented and hard-working artist with the same insecurities and idiosyncrasies we all have. What sets her apart is her unique ability to channel those insecurities into incredible, heart-wrenching musical performances.
In addition to her vocal performance, Menzel charmed the audience with stories of her career, relationships, and motherhood (her son, Walker has joined her on this tour). Her mothering side took over during moments of the concert. Following the first number, Menzel spied a little girl in the front row whose parent was covering her ears. Menzel paused the concert to ask her sound tech, Jimmy, to find a pair of noise-canceling headphones for the toddler: a small but significant action that showed Menzel not just as a performer, but also as a caring person.
Toward the end of the show, Menzel further tugged at the audience’s heartstrings by inviting children up to the stage to sing her hit song from Frozen, “Let it Go.” She unhurriedly chatted with the children, repeating the chorus of the song at least five times so each child could get a chance to be behind her microphone at least once. Menzel was as generous with her hugs as she was with the rest of herself that night, and in doing so gave us each a very special gift that we are unlikely to let go.