Phoenix is the last city on Idina Menzel’s list—and that’s a good thing. It means that a 56-city, three-continent tour by the vocal artist some have called “a contemporary Barbra Streisand” will culminate here, September 3, at Comerica Theatre.
What will she be doing after September 3?
“I think I’ll need a little rest,” says Menzel over the phone, laughing lightly.
Rest has never been a high priority for the star of Broadway’s Wicked and the voice of Queen Elsa in Disney’s Frozen. After all, this is the second 50-plus city world tour she’s done. The first one, in 2015, came on the heels of Frozen and the mega-hit Menzel made of its Oscar-winning song, “Let It Go.” This one promotes her new studio album, titled simply, idina (without the initial capital “I”.)
Menzel considers this, her fifth album, her “most personal.” Why is that?
“All my music is personal, because that’s the only way I know to make music,” she says.
This one is especially so, because…
“Two really big opposing forces were going on while the album was being made. I was going through my divorce and dealing with all the sadness and guilt that that entails, the regret of letting down my little boy and not giving him the perfect family unit. At the same time, my career was catapulted to a new level with Frozen taking off. So many emotions combusting at once made for a really rich studio recording environment.”
Menzel co-wrote nine of the 12 tracks on idina, and their links to her life experiences are palpable. Take “Queen of Swords,” for example:
“The queen of swords is a tarot card often pulled when someone is experiencing a break-up or divorce. It’s very powerful, honest and direct. We were in the studio, talking about that one day and the song happened. It’s about being a warrior.”
“Perfect Story” addresses another aspect of Menzel’s divorce: the disappoint it handed to her son, Walker, now age 8. The beautifully crafted song addresses a child whose parents are breaking up in terms of a fairy tale that didn’t end as imagined.
And then there’s the ironically titled, “I Do.”
“It’s rare that I get to write an angry song,” Menzel says. “So often I try, and the song ends up with an optimistic ending, and I hate that!”
But “I Do” stays angry, lambasting the hypocrisy of betrayal.
“That song really worked through the anger I had with my past relationship, and allowed me to say goodbye, really.”
In short, the album is, in a way, Menzel’s way of saying to herself… “Let It Go.”
If you’re concerned that a tour promoting Menzel’s album will not include that iconic song, relax. In addition to songs from idina, the concert will feature it, alongside songs from the show that landed Menzel on Broadway, Rent, and the show that made her a superstar, Wicked.
The terms “Broadway” and “pop” don’t generally go together these days, but in Menzel’s case they have made a connection.
“Frozen really knocked down a bunch of doors for me,” she says. “For so long, I was told that theater people can’t have a hit song on the radio. And suddenly there it (‘Let It Go’) was, on the radio. You can’t really listen to what people tell you.”
It’s also not been usual for theater people to write their own songs, though that is changing with the likes of Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton). Menzel sticks to co-writing, so she can bring her ideas to a project while gaining the insights of collaborators:
“I don’t consider myself a great songwriter. I put myself in the same room with really successful songwriters and I give them ideas. I love sitting with people and letting the creative process happen. And I’m good with melodies.”
At age 46, Menzel is at the top of her game. It’s not an easy game to play.
“It can be exhilarating, or it can be scary. It’s work. The life of a singer is not easy. We identify ourselves with the notes we sing, and with our voices. I’ve finally come to realize that that’s not my only identity. I’m not only a singer. But that’s what people come to see.”
She says she doesn’t get bored by the repetition of material—something for which she credits the eight-shows-a-week schedule of Broadway shows.
It helps that her son is along on the tour.
“He just started really watching the show. For a long time, he didn’t have any interest. He associated the show with work and that took away mommy. But the other day, he said the sweetest thing. I asked him if he was getting bored watching the show every night, and he said, ‘Yeah, but it makes me feel closer to you.’”
Idina Menzel, Comerica Theatre, 400 W. Washington Street, 602.379.2800, comericatheatre.com, 8 p.m. Sunday, September 3, $45-$250.