When people shuffled into the Detroit Opera House on June 27 to see Broadway belter Idina Menzel, they knew what they were in for: some crazy-ass vocals. And sure, they got a touching take on “No Day But Today” and crowd-pleasing showstopper “Defying Gravity,” but the premier diva of theater didn’t stop there. She gave them a piece of herself.
With just her silhouette illuminated behind a full orchestra, her key players from New York and local musicians among them, she opened with a wink to her “Wicked” fans with the first few lines of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” When she came into view, looking lovely in a white gown and no shoes (in light of the album she’s supporting, “Barefoot at the Symphony”), she eased into Elphaba’s “The Wizard and I” – a grand entrance full of panache and sky-high notes that clearly overjoyed all the gays in attendance.
Those notes didn’t stop. She killed “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” prefacing her performance with a very amusing back story: That even though she killed another Barbra Streisand song, “The Way We Were,” as a child, she was instead asked to sing “Don’t Rain” to honor Babs at the Kennedy Center. So who did “The Way We Were”? Beyonce, of course. “That bitch,” Idina quipped.
Menzel’s silly, serious and sometimes surprising banter – no, Beyonce, she didn’t really mean it – was almost as good as the music. She couldn’t stop going on about the actually out-of-place staircase – an ongoing joke during the 90-minute show – at the front of the stage, probably a last-minute addition so the star could easily step down into the audience, which she did several times.
The best came during “Take Me or Leave Me,” earning her one of many standing ovations as she hand-picked two fans from the crowd – one girl and one gay with an unbelievable set of pipes – to finish the song. Not only was the performance, which came together in the end surprisingly well for something so impromptu, unbelievable but so was the way Menzel interacted with her fans – especially one tween who acted like she could sing until she got to the stage, where she told Idina she actually just wanted a hug.
The whole show – which also included a dazzling rendition of “Both Sides Now,” a couple new songs, and an unplugged take on “For Good” – felt that way: like one big squeeze from one of the biggest stars of Broadway.