“And nobody in all of Oz – no wizard that there is or was – is ever gonna bring me down,” exclaims Elphaba in the triumphant “Defying Gravity” from Wicked, an anthem Broadway stalwart Idina Menzel is known for.
Indeed, Idina is unstoppable. From someone who had a humble professional start, she later on conquered the world of musical theater. She has now embarked on a world tour following the success of Disney’s Frozen and a run of the “intense” If/Then on Broadway.
Idina Menzel has practically invented some of Broadway’s most iconic and formidable characters: the feisty Maureen from Rent, and the principled Elphaba from Wicked.
Most recently, she broke through the hit charts with the ubiquitous anthem, “Let it Go” as the vulnerable Elsa in Disney’s blockbuster film Frozen – an empowering update of the Snow Queen tale.
The vocal powerhouse commanded the cavernous Mall of Asia Arena – as she would have on a Broadway stage – with show tunes and more. For Idina, the visit was long overdue, “I’ve been trying to get here! I’ve wanted to come so badly, and I finally made it!” (RELATED: Idina Menzel announces PH stop in world tour)
Flanked by the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra, she belted out grandiose Broadway tunes and made some popular songs sound lushly symphonic.
A New Yorker at heart, Idina kept it real. In a previous interview with Rappler, she said, “…We have to put ourselves out there in order to be really good and really powerful… and take risks, and remain vulnerable.” (LISTEN: Idina Menzel: Take risks, remain vulnerable) As she told Playbill, “It's also the only way that you're going to maintain a relationship with your audience.”
Indeed, Idina kept the Manila audience hooked, not only through her impressive set of pipes, but with her funny demeanor. She peppered her set with offbeat banter. It all felt like a fantasy: as if we were chatting with her at a New York theater’s stage door.
Despite having skyrocketed to mainstream fame as the voice of Elsa, Idina is no stereotypical Disney royalty. From what we witnessed, her persona might be closer to the ballsy performance artist Maureen role that she had played in Rent. (It’s almost as if the character's personality was based on her!)
At one point, like Elsa, she let go by taking her heels off and going barefoot for most of the night. The 44-year old diva also commented about growing older, “I just need to do a little stretch. Are there any yoga teachers in the audience? It was my birthday a couple of days ago [May 30], maybe that’s a sign.” She was as real as it could get.
Here are some special moments from the Broadway diva’s long-awaited visit to our shores:
1. ‘Just you and I, defying gravity’
Idina immediately opened with the powerful “Defying Gravity” from Wicked. She clearly wanted to take us on a journey fueled by her incredible voice, “Just you and I / Defying gravity!”
“You guys know Wicked over here? It’s a show about the Wicked Witch of the West. But we know about her, right? It’s about a really sweet, beautiful green woman. I was the very first one!”
Idina opens her show with Wicked's Act I finale, "Defying Gravity" A video posted by Out of Tune (@outoftunephoto) on Jun 7, 2015 at 5:39am PDT
She also sang “The Wizard and I,” a song from the musical’s first act showing her character Elphaba’s ambitious beginnings – one that mirrors her own – prior to gaining an unfortunate reputation as the Wicked Witch of the West.
2. Three empty front seats
A regrettable sight distracted Idina. She had already sung a few songs, yet three front seats remained empty.
She worried, “It’s making me very uncomfortable. Were they here and then they left? They didn’t leave because they weren’t having a good time or anything, were they?” The crowd assured her that this definitely wasn’t the case.
Someone blamed the traffic, “Oh, I should stall and just hang out – we could talk a little longer? Does traffic really suck here?” The Manila crowd, no stranger to monstrous traffic jams, groaned with a huge “yes.”
“I get it. Let’s just do the whole thing over. They can come in. I know I already made a couple of mistakes anyway. I’d like to do it over. Plus, my leg is killing me!”
She threw something out which excited the crowd, “My girl Courtney’s gonna go up probably till like really high up there. And she’s gonna pick three people.”
Midway through the Annie Get Your Gun tune “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” a family, with a little baby, sat comfortably in the previously empty seats, and Idina was clearly pleased. “Wonderful to have you! Should I go back and do ‘Defying Gravity?’ Something has changed within me…”
3. Dingdong, ‘the witch is dead!’
Enthusiastic, Idina asked us how we say ‘I love you,” “I knew I wrote down how to say [it]. I don’t have it here. How do you say it? Mahal… kita? Mahal kita! Mahal kita!!!” She even joked that it sounded like “My guitaah! [guitar]!”
Still puzzled, she asked an audience member and ripped a set list off the stage floor, “Can you write it down – phonetically? ‘cause I just – like – so much going through my mind!”
“What’s your name? Dingdong?!” Idina cheekily laughed at the (American) innuendo, “Are you messing with me? Mahal kita, Dingdong! Ha ha ha!” She kissed and hugged him afterwards, thrilling Dingdong.
She also later asked Dingdong if he could sing, “Do you know this song, Dingdong, ‘Ding-dong, the witch is dead!’”
4. ‘Some times, you just feel like singing a Radiohead song.’
With the successes of “Let It Go” and “Defying Gravity,” Idina has often been lauded for powerful pipes. But as she told the New York Times, “I’m more than just the acrobatics.”
She deftly took on darker songs. She did a mashup of two thematically similar tracks: show tune “Love for Sale” (from the scandalous 1930 Cole Porter musical The New Yorkers) and The Police’s “Roxanne.”
Contrasting the triumphant and optimistic tunes from Wicked and Frozen, Idina confided, “I would be a liar if I said that’s how I felt all the time. You know, sometimes it’s hard to get up onstage and sing those kinds of songs.”
“Sometimes, you wake up in the morning, and you just don’t feel right about yourself, right? Sometimes… Maybe someone’s broken your heart. Sometimes, you look in the mirror and you just don’t like what you see.”
“Some times, you just feel like singing a Radiohead song,” she said. As if shedding the actress façade, she channeled Thom Yorke’s angst in singing the Radiohead ballad “Creep.” She animatedly conveyed the song’s melancholic lyrics, throwing herself on the floor – a gritty, sincere display.
Idina Menzel x Thom Yorke with "Creep" A video posted by Out of Tune (@outoftunephoto) on Jun 7, 2015 at 7:03am PDT
Idina also sang “I Stand” and “Brave” from her 2008 studio album, I Stand. She was delighted to learn that there were a lot in the crowd who supported her career outside of the theater.
5. ‘You love the limelight, too, baby!’
As Idina was the first Maureen in Rent, it was only a matter of time for her to sing “Take Me or Leave Me,” the lover’s spat and break-up duet of characters Maureen and Joanne from the musical. However, she had a big surprise in store for us: “It’s a song that’s originally sung by two women. So I can’t sing along all by myself.”
Idina, still barefoot, came down from the stage to handpick lucky audience members to sing the other part. Indeed, as Maureen’s part in the duet goes, “Folks would kill to fill your shoes / You love the limelight, too, now, baby!”
“I like it when a guy sings. It doesn’t have to be just a girl, you know,” Idina said, as she approached a familiar guy in yellow. She was astonished as she found him to pack some serious vocal punch. He was, after all, Timmy Pavino, from Team Lea in The Voice PH Season 2. (RELATED: IN PHOTOS: Idina Menzel sings with 3 Pinoy audience members at PH concert)
She approached the stage wings to select two more girls, Carla and Andrea, who proudly sang, “Take me for what I am / Who I was meant to be.” They were ecstatic, and they definitely sounded like they have performed in school and professional productions.
She later brought all 3 of them on stage, singing some of the lines in unison.
6. ‘No day but today’
Idina wistfully recalled how she got her break with Rent, from being a wedding and bar mitzvah singer: “I was really lucky I got a job like that my first time out.”
“The composer, my friend, Jonathan Larson… hired me and thirteen other kids, and we’ve rehearsed for eight weeks.” Larson took an 1896 opera to the turn of the century and transformed it into something accessible and resonant: portraying AIDS-stricken bohemians living in harsh New York City.
“And right before we opened, he passed away,” Idina sadly recalled.
She introduced Rent’s bumper sticker song, “No Day But Today,” saying, “I love it so much because it reminds me of how important it is to take in the moment… Stop looking behind you, in front of you, and really try to be present.”
“And so, I like to sing this song as a tribute and as a thank you to him – and also as a reminder of living life… how important it is to appreciate where we are.”
It was an emotional moment when the audience – with phones lit up – sang along, “There's only now / There's only here / Give in to love / Or live in fear / No other path / No other way / No day but today.”
7. ‘You’re a very sophisticated, very smart theater audience!’
Idina recounted days singing and acting in New York City, when Filipino fans would wait at the stage door – hoping to meet her.
“You have been the most loving, supportive audience for years and years. As far back as I can remember – even when I didn’t even have much of a name – there were always people from the Philippines saying, ‘I see you.’”
Owing to this history, she told the many Filipino musical fans in the crowd, “You’re a very sophisticated, very smart theater audience!”
8. “Bumitaw, bumitaw”
The crowd eagerly awaited their favorite, the power solo from Frozen, “Let It Go.” Idina absolutely delivered with a stunning display of all her vocal might. But she amazed us with a surprise, singing the chorus in Filipino, “Bumitaw, bumitaw / 'Di ko na matatago (Let it go, let it go / Can't hold it back anymore).”
She paused and nervously checked with the audience before resuming, “Bumitaw, bumitaw / Isarado ang pinto / Kahit na anong sabihin pa / Bumagyo pa man / Lamig ay hindi alintana. (Let it go, let it go / Turn away and slam the door / I don't care what they're going to say / Let the storm rage on / The cold never bothered me anyway.)” (WATCH: Idina Menzel sings Filipino version of 'Let It Go' at PH concert)
Asking the Filipino audience to sing it together with her, she astutely remarked, “You don’t even know it! You know it in English, don’t you?” as we laughed at ourselves, mumbling some of the words we had just heard.
9. Motherly instinct
In spite of all the profanities she dropped with “Creep” and “Always Starting Over” (from If/Then), Idina was tender and adoring towards the youngsters in the audience.
Idina spotted a little girl in an Elsa costume approached her as she sang “Let It Go,” walking among the crowd. She paid no heed to back pains and carried little Elsa along while taking on the song’s challenging F3 to E-flat5 range.
The doting mother to Walker also dedicated “Child,” off her upcoming studio album, to her son.
10. ‘Because I knew you, I have been changed for good’
Idina shared, “…To come all the way across the world to a place I’ve never set foot in and to have all these amazing friends is beyond anything I could’ve ever imagined.”
She eschewed her microphone and dedicated the apt “For Good” from Wicked to us – no accompaniments, just her glorious voice thundering across the stadium.
The diva told the fans that she had waited for a while to meet, “I hope that I’ll be back soon.”
Unlike Glinda and Elphaba, we didn’t want this to be the last time we cross paths. But definitely, we felt like we made a sincere friend, so we could sing back to her, “Because I knew you / I have been changed for good.” – Rappler.com
Paolo Abad is a film/television editor and motion graphic designer. He is also a self-confessed concert junkie. Follow his Instagram for live music @outoftunephoto