Filed Under:

Idina Menzel: From Broadway To The Symphony

Idina Menzel is touring the nation, performing "No Day But Today," her signature song from the musical Rent. That show made Menzel, playing the flirtatious performance artist Maureen Johnson, famous in the late-1990s. She followed with her Tony Award-winning role as the green-faced Wicked Witch of the West in the musical Wicked. More recently, she's had a recurring spot on the TV show Glee.

When Menzel takes the stage on this tour, she sings standards and pop covers in front of symphony orchestras. Recordings from the tour have been collected on an album called Barefoot at the Symphony, so named because she's discovered that's the secret to her best performances. She spoke to Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon about this latest turn in her unpredictable career.

"I always like to sing barefoot, but when I first started doing these dates with the symphonies, I of course thought I should clean up my act, being a Jewish girl from Long Island with a little bit of a trucker mouth. So I wore a gown and some high heels," she says. But she's also a mom with a 2-year-old son, and after a day or two of hauling stroller, car seat and child on and off airplanes, she gave it up.

"My back was killing me, and I thought there's no way I'm putting on those heels," she says. "I went out there, and I had the best show I've ever had. I was hitting notes I've never hit. I felt like I was being more myself, and I was funnier. I was just more comfortable, so that was the end of that."

Menzel started working as a wedding singer when she was 15 years old. "I lied to all the bands so that they'd hire me, and I drove around illegally in Long Island and New York and Connecticut to get the gigs," she says. "So I was always having to do other people's music."

Even though her bread and butter was singing songs the way people expected to hear them, Menzel says she was aware that imitation wasn't enough. "I know I'm known for singing some of those high notes, but that's really not what giving someone goosebumps is all about," she says. "It's about really trying to find what makes you unique."

Onstage she goes for laughs, especially when she's covering Lady Gaga's "Pokerface," backed by Juilliard graduates. "They're always so serious, the orchestras, you know?" Menzel says. "It's always a fun contrast of that song and the genre of music. And me."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit


French Bulldog At Heart Of New Children's Book 'Naughty Mabel'

Mabel is a naughty French bulldog at the center of a new children's book by Nathan Lane and Devlin Elliott. NPR's Scott Simon speaks with Lane about his inspiration for the fictional dog.

How Do We Get To Love At 'First Bite'?

It's the season of food, and British food writer Bee Wilson has a book on how our food tastes are formed. NPR's Scott Simon speaks with her about her new book, "First Bite: How We Learn to Eat."

Snapshots 2016: Trump's Message Resonates With A Master Cabinet Maker

From time to time during this election season we'll be introducing you to ordinary people that our reporters meet out on the campaign trail. Today: a snapshot from a Donald Trump rally in New Hampshire.

What Is Li-Fi And When Will You Use It To Download Everything Faster?

Li-Fi is a lot like Wi-Fi, but it uses light to transmit data. NPR's Scott Simon speaks to the man who invented the faster alternative: Harald Haas.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.