By MIKE CHAIKEN
For the fans of Idina Menzel, the Broadway diva could walk out and sing a bunch of sea shanties and they’d be happy that they shared the same air as their heroine.
Menzel’s fans are a devoted lot if the Facebook posts I saw the night of, and the morning after, her July 11 show at the Mohegan Sun Arena are any indication.
Fortunately for her fans, Menzel didn’t focus on a study of pirate ditties.
She provided a selection of the songs she made famous on the Great White Way as well as a number of other songs that enchanted everyone… not just the devoted—but the unconverted (i.e. me) as well.
Don’t get me wrong about predisposition heading to Uncasville on Saturday night. I was definitely in a sympathetic frame of mind for Menzel’s show.
I am a fan of several ventures pioneered by Menzel such as the musicals “Wicked” and “Rent.” I am a fan of her genres… show tunes, cabaret, and pop music.
I had caught her in her guest starring stints on “Glee.”
And like most people who have not lived in a cave the past two years, I have heard her version of “Let It Go” from Disney’s “Frozen” and find myself singing along.
But I definitely couldn’t count myself as being a fervent fan or even someone who could claim a great deal of familiarity of her performances. (My exposure to “Wicked” and “Rent” were with road shows, long after Menzel moved on to other projects.)
However, following her show at the Mohegan Sun Arena, I definitely can count myself as a fan. (She indicated a new album is in the works and I can’t wait to get my hands on it now.)
First of all, musically, Menzel’s performance was stunning. Accompanied by a stellar backing orchestra, Menzel’s voice definitely lived up to its reputation. She opened with her trademark “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked.” In my view, this is one of those songs that not only needs a powerful voice but one that “defies gravity” as the lyrics say. The performance needs to appear effortless. Menzel managed this with aplomb. And the passion by which she sang the song caused my heart to soar, which surely was the intent of composer Stephen Schwartz.
And from that auspicious start, Menzel never let the audience down. Her song selection (everything from an Ethel Merman melody to Radiohead’s “Creep” to The Police’s “Roxanne” to “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” which was made famous by Barbara Streisand) and the pacing of the show kept the audience enraptured. Her between song patter was charming.
And she had some special moments that probably kept the audience chatting about the show all evening. I’m speaking, in particular, the opportunities she gave some of the younger members of the audience to join her in the spotlight, flexing their still young vocal prowess. The youngsters acquitted themselves superbly and Menzel showed great grace by handing the reins over the potential Broadway stars of tomorrow.
Given the venue, the Mohegan Sun Arena, which is typically better suited for amplified rock music or women’s basketball, the quality of of Menzel’s voice on Saturday was simply astounding. It’s easy for a vocalist to lose focus in such a cavernous space as your voice bounces back at you from the other side of the arena. But Menzel was at the top of her game all evening and she seemed unfazed by the challenge of her environs.
After Menzel wrapped her final encore, “Tomorrow” from “Annie,” I found myself still humming the songs I heard throughout the evening and smiling at the performance I had just witnessed.
Now, Idina Menzel can count me as a member of her army of fans.
I give Idina Menzel’s July 11 performance at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville four out of four stars.
PHOTOS by MIKE CHAIKEN