Over the past few years or so, Menzel’s name has been on kinds of marquees – music venues, performance theaters and even film and TV productions. On August 13, it’ll be at the Riverside Theater, as she performs in Milwaukee.
For most people, she’s known for her role as Elsa in Disney’s hit animated film Frozen, and her Oscar-winning song “Let It Go.” But she’s shown she’s not a one-hit wonder.
Among her many acting roles, she’s appeared in the TV show Glee and theatrical productions of Wicked and Rent. She was the first person with both a Billboard Top 10 hit and a Tony Award for acting. Last year she released her latest album, idina., which she has referred to in interviews as her most personal and introspective she’s made.
Prior to her performance, we talked to her about coming to Milwaukee, finding her place as a singer and actor, supporting her family (during the call she was in the midst of a game of hide and go seek with her son), and yes, of course, her big hit “Let it Go.”
What do you like about performing here in Milwaukee?
I would say the audiences. We’ve had great shows and the audience is always so supportive and fun and enthusiastic. I think they appreciate my spontaneity. So, we’re able to give them a show that no other city has had before.
What do you think of performing at the Riverside Theater?
It’s a beautiful venue. Great sound. Great atmosphere.
How does performing in Midwest cities like Milwaukee compare with bigger cities like New York?
I don’t think of it in that way. Each city and each show is different. Maybe it’s because I’m a creature of the theater and do eight shows a week. Each audience is different, period. You could do five shows back-to-back in Milwaukee and it’d be different. So, I don’t calibrate it like that. I go home to my hometown in New York on Long Island and do a show and it can be great or it can feel not as good as something in a small town that the people are excited to see me and don’t have me there that often. Live performance is a character in itself — the audience and how I’m feeling personally in my life, my health. Every night is a different creature for me. I just get out there and try to stay open and be spontaneous and authentic with the audience. And Midwest, East, West Coast, it’s not how I remember things.
I remember things like having a wonderful connection with an audience member or somebody coming up to me on stage and bringing me a letter of how a certain song or show, how I connected with them at a certain time in their life and that was important to them. Or something I did with the band that happened creatively and spontaneously. And a new idea that we came up with. A new riff and new song and whatever. When you’re on the road on tour and doing 52 cities, it’s more how you keep it moving and make it rewarding for yourself creatively and your audience.
Do you have much downtime in the cities you tour through?
No, I don’t. When you’re a singer and you have a lot of challenging songs and melodies and people expect you to sound great all the time, it’s everything I can do to get enough sleep and take care of my health and take care of my son. Maybe I’ll get to the zoo or children’s museums so I can spend some quality time with him. And then I get out on the stage and give my heart and soul for two hours straight and move on to the next city. That’s my life.
I haven’t been to Milwaukee to actually experience it when I’m not performing. Usually I’m there and I bring my son and it’s all I can do to be a good mom and spend time with him and get enough sleep and get myself to the theater and do a good show.
Justin Hurwitz, the composer from La La Land, is from Wisconsin. What do you think of that film’s success?
Well, it’s not the first success of a musical. Westside Story, the movie, changed my life. It’s nice that cinema is continuing to reward musicals. But what I love about that musical is the nostalgia that’s inherent in the way that they tell the story, that it’s sort of modern but old-fashioned. I loved that about La La Land. But there have been many movie musicals that have been appreciated and have had accolades. I think it’s all about a great story and great composers. It’s continuing a great tradition from Hollywood movies, but it’s not the first thing. It’s not a pioneer. It’s just another great movie musical.
You seem to have your pick of what you want to do these days. How do you think you’re able to balance it all between music and acting to decide what you’re going to do next?
Honestly it all starts with my family and home and trying to make sure I’m doing what I need to do to raise my son and be a good mom. If the projects can fit into that properly timewise, locale, then I start from there. I just feel lucky to be welcomed into certain circles, great creative circles with people that I’ve always wanted to work with. I think that’s the name of the game, is to surround yourself with great actors and writers. And be part of the process and not be so worried about the outcome. That’s how you be a liaison for their ideas and get myself in the room with the right people. So, it’s still a challenging learning experience for me. That’s how I pick and choose things. I just want to learn from people. Usually if I’m doing something it’s not because of the title, it’s because of the director or writer that’s involved.
What does it mean to have such a big hit like “Let It Go,” that still gets pretty strong reactions from people young and old?
That’s what’s beautiful about it. It’s a gift in my life to have a song that’s so successful like that has such a strong message. It has helped to expand my audience. I have young and old and all types of demographics. It’s introduced me to a whole new audience. But most important, it’s what it speaks to. And how it’s challenging all of us to find a way to embrace this thing inside us that makes us different and not to be afraid to put that out there in the world and let it shine.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be in music and acting?
Just that: to not be afraid to be different. And not to try to copy anybody or be a carbon copy of someone else that might inspire you. To let them influence you and learn from them but then to allow your own unique qualities to be the thing that guides you. And to know deep down that the right opportunity will come along and you can’t force it. As long as you work really hard and put yourself out there and take risks, the opportunity will come.