There are a lot of stars on Broadway, but each generation has a few who shine brighter than most.
Over the years, theatergoers have flocked to see beloved singers like Carol Channing, Angela Lansbury or Bernadette Peters on the Great White Way; these are legendary performers who make every production a night to remember.
Over the last 15 years, Idina Menzel has joined their exclusive class.
“It’s so flattering to be thought about in the company of those women. It’s awesome and something I never really dreamed of,” Menzel said. “I have my own style and sort of cross barriers and straddle lines here and there with pop and musical theater and my approach to singing, so to be accepted for all that is really satisfying to me. Hopefully, I can keep doing some good work and be in some more memorable productions.”
Menzel has originated two iconic characters on the stage — first, through her powerful Tony-nominated turn as Maureen in the original cast of the Pulitzer Prize winning “Rent”; then by showing incredible depth playing “Wicked’s” Elphaba, which garnered her a Tony win for portraying the early years of the Wicked Witch of the West.
“I like to be in original musicals because that obviously has worked for me. Even though it’s more arduous and takes many years if you are involved from the beginning, it’s the most rewarding process for me,” she said. “When you are invited into the confidence of the writers and composers as they are coming up with their ideas, it’s such a privilege.”
For the past two years, Menzel has been away from the Broadway stage, touring in concert with leading orchestras around the country. One of her first stops was on the Wolf Trap stage working with famed composer Marvin Hamlisch in 2010.
“It was a special show for me because it was the first time I had worked with Marvin, and we just fell in love with each other and it was the first of many that we would work on together,” Menzel said. “I just love Wolf Trap. It’s a gorgeous venue to play and so many legendary people have played there, so it’s such an honor.”
The singer returns to the Filene Center on Friday in support of “Idina Menzel Live: Barefoot at the Symphony,” which was released as a live CD and DVD in March. This time, the acclaimed vocalist will be backed by the National Symphony Orchestra, with Steven Reineke conducting.
“People can expect to hear some of the Broadway selections that they would know from the shows I have been in, plus some Cole Porter, some standards, some pop music and kind of an eclectic mix,” Menzel said. “Having the orchestra behind me gives it such a dramatic, theatrical sound that ties it all together.”
It was back in 1995 when Menzel first auditioned for “Rent,” and Jonathan Larson cast her in what was her first professional theater job. After workshops and trial runs, the musical finally opened off-Broadway on Jan. 26, 1996, one day after Larson’s tragic death.
“It was my first professional show, so for me, it set the standard of discipline, of how hard you work, trying not to ever miss a show and how important it all is,” Menzel said. “Because Jonathan wasn’t there, it was significant for us as performers to speak every word and sing every note and communicate and get his message across. I try to keep that idea with me through all the other projects I have done, and in life.”
Most know that Menzel is married to her “Rent” co-star, actor Taye Diggs, and Rentheads will be glad to hear the two have remained close to many of the others from the cast. At the Wolf Trap concert, Menzel will sing an arrangement of the show’s “No Day But Today,” to thank the man who made it all possible.
“I do it because it keeps me in touch with the experience and it’s my personal way of paying tribute to Jonathan. It’s a song I know people totally identify with,” she said. “It’s a constant reminder to not take things for granted and to stay in the moment and appreciate where you are.”
In addition to her theater work and concert schedule, Menzel found time to appear in an arc on the Fox hit show “Glee” last year, playing mom to Lea Michele’s Rachel, an actress whose resemblance to Menzel has long been talked about in theater circles.
Although she would love to do more TV, film and, of course, another musical (she hints there are things in the works), first and foremost on her mind is her concert performances.
“I feel like having been on tour a while now, one thing I can guarantee each audience in every city is that each show is totally different. I really welcome spontaneity and I think it’s important to stay in that moment and keep things really fresh,” Menzel said. “Everyone down in Virginia and D.C. can expect the unexpected and expect that I will really give them a grand, theatrical, dramatic show, but also one that’s very intimate and personal.”