Idina Menzel’s New York Philharmonic Debut w/ Marvin Hamlish at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall
This article is dedicate to Kelli Dugan, my beautiful sister who constantly reminds me where our love for music is rooted. For that, I am eternally grateful!
Music! It amazes me. No matter what kind, ultimately, one of the greatest things about music is its ability to draw people together. My sister and I are like oil and water. It works in some ways, in others, not so much! But one thing we have always connected through, although not always agreeing on, is music.
Growing up, my sister and I were raised around the symphonies, Broadway musicals and Disney On Ice events. Our grandmother and mother got us season tickets to various Philharmonic groups and other classical performances. Our father played jazz piano and surrounded us with the blues every night after dinner. We grew a taste for finer music, smooth voices, song and dance.
I branched off, falling in love with the jam community after finding Jerry Garcia and Janis Joplin while my sister stayed with the more mainstream pop music side of life. But, where our passions never differed was with Broadway. My sister is completely addicted to the Broadway world as I am with our community. So, when I found out that Idina Menzel would be debuting with the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center‘s Avery Fisher Hall, I immediately snagged tickets for her Christmas present.
For those of you not familiar with Idina Menzel, she is one of the greatest singing talents of our generation. Raised in Queens and Long Island, her claim to fame was her Broadway debut as Maureen in the original cast of Rent where she was nominated for a Tony award. She would later go on to win a Tony Award for her role as Elphaba, the green witch in Wicked. The later became my sister’s favorite Broadway show immediately upon its release. Sadly, we were never able to see the original cast of Wicked and thus another reason for the importance of this night!
Having never been to Avery Fisher Hall, I absolutely melted upon entering the building. This wasn’t your average club venue or even a nice theater for that matter. The grand Hall was simply stunning, dripping in rich textures and colors. There was an amazing layout of seats that allowed for everyone to have a clear view of the stage, twinkling lights bordered the many layers of seats around the audience and the acoustic set up was meticulous.
The New York Philharmonic had already taken their seats, waiting for their conductor. When he finally came out, he was announced as Marvin Hamlisch and my sister jumped COMPLETELY out of her seat, leaning into me saying “How come you didn’t tell me Marvin Hamlisch was performing. MARVIN HAMLISCH???? Seeing her reaction, I recognized that I should know this name. Of all the classical music we had seen performed, I should have remembered this name. Not only is he one of the world’s most famous conductors/pianists/songwriters, his contribution to music is never ending. He is one of only two people to have been awarded Emmys, Grammys, Oscars, and a Tony, a Pulitzer Prize, and two Golden Globes. I mean, COME ON!!! Musical talent at its best!
When Idina Menzel was announced, she walked out in a gorgeous white gown with a black belt matching her velvet black hair, wearing no shoes and the biggest grin. Being an empathetic person, I could only imagine how swelled her heart must have been walking out on that stage, knowing she would be performing with the greatest symphony on Earth in one of the most prestigious music halls in the greatest city on Earth. And her actions proved just that. In a setting where the pompous, uptight, yuppie vibe generally overtakes the artists, over the night she would giggle, joke, take her liberties and just connect on such a personal level with all of us.
Seeing her walk out on stage drew a tear to my eye. I knew the music tonight would be touching but I wasn’t exactly sure how much. A night where I thought my sister would be crying her eyes out showed me just how much I enjoyed this music as the tears came freely numerous times throughout the performance and I could be found asking my sister for all her tissues.
Jumping immediately into song, Idina Menzel sang “The Life of the Party” from The Wild Party, setting the tone for the otherwise unusually relaxed night at the Philharmonic.
“I’m Not That Girl” was our first taste of Wicked and had my sister gasping for breath as Idina‘s smooth voice registered to the tops of the balconies. Such a pure voice. Then, Idina‘s personality came to form as she picked up the microphone and bantered with the audience. She began with a little anecdote:
“In college, I had this professor and I had the biggest crush on him. One day, we were given an assignment to pick out a Cole Porter song and we were asked to perform it in the front of class later in the week. I picked out what I thought was the sexiest Cole Porter song I could find. I dressed in the sexiest thing I owned and came into class. I began singing the song and immediately he stopped me. ‘What are you doing?’ he asked. I told him I was singing the song. ‘Do you have any idea what this song is about? he asked. He proceeded to tell me how this was a women on the streets, she was cold, tired and hungry….and scared”
As she lowered her voice, almost whispering the word “scared,” she broke into Cole Porter‘s “Love For Sale,” one of the most beautiful Cole Porter songs ever written. It was sensual, painful and contained all the hurt and lust that this women from the street evoked. Idina nailed the emotions perfectly. Her teacher had made his point. And then, before she even began singing I could hear the mash-up coming. She threw in some of the “Idina spirit” as I would come to call her little bursts of personality. She mashed Cole Porter‘s song with Sting‘s “Roxanne.” Kelli and I both giggled. Even the uptight grandmother next to me grunted out a little smirk.
One of the greatest thing of this performance was how low-key Idina made it feel. She owned it, making it her own with her bare feet and her fun stories. This time she spoke fondly of Jonathon Larson, writer/composer of the musical Rent. How this wonderful man spent his last days creating what would become one of the Broadway‘s most famous and acclaimed musicals only to die the day before seeing his masterpiece come to life on stage. She spoke of how this moment in time truly changed her outlook on life. How every night, the cast performed to their highest abilities in honor of this wonderful man. How she took the lesson of truly appreciating living in the moment and trying to preserve those moments in her heart once she had stepped away from them. The tears had started flowing in the eyes of the woman surrounding me. Tissues started making their way into the hands of men who appreciated the context of the story.
I wrote out this entire article before looking for videos. There was a strict no video or picture rule and flashlights abounded around us as security descended upon any light they saw in the audience. I am totally shocked that so many videos came up in my search. After watching the videos again, I can’t help but transplant back into Avery Fisher Hall, soaking up the elegance, the purity and the energy of the swelled hearts around me. During “No Day But Today” from Rent, Idina held out the microphone and allowed us to join in her triumph debut. It began as a soft A Capella and tears were streaming down the audiences face, especially mine. Here is the video. It speaks for itself.
“Look To The Rainbow” followed from Finian’s Rainbow, a Broadway show I was unfamiliar with. Then, probably the most interesting or perhaps just odd portion of the show, the singing of Lady Gaga‘s “Poker Face.” Oh, man am I sick of hearing this song being covered by every artist on Earth. Now here we were, in the most elegant Hall in NYC with the world’s greatest Philharmonic performers, performing this ridiculous yet catchy song.
“Hey you guys, don’t you feel that you’ve arrived, playing this song?” she joked to the musicians on stage.
The reason for this choice song was simple. Idina Menzel had recently made an appearance on GLEE, the hit show on FOX and “Poker Face” was the song she performed as the mother of Rachel played by Lea Michele. The video is HILARIOUS as Idina stopped multiple times throughout the song to banter with the audience and Marvin directly. She is EXTREMELY ADORABLE!!
Not sure why I knew this was coming but Idina‘s next anecdote focused on her greatest Idol and one of the other great voices of a slightly older generation, Barbra Streisand. Idina had been tapped to perform for a performance for Barbra Streisand and her nervousness was simply overwhelming. She practiced and practiced and finally, she performed terrified as she watched Barbra sitting across from her seated next to George Bush at the event. Later, as they feasted at the event, Barbara approached Idina and asked “Did you sing for me tonight? I didn’t have on my glasses!” As the audience laughs along with the musicians, Idina broke out her jazzy vocals to sing “Funny Girl” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” both songs made famous by Barbra Streisand.
Finally, closing out her gorgeous performance, she thanked us for being there, she thanked her parents, her staff, her loving husband, Tey Diggs, and her new son Walker, at which point she began to get emotional. As well, those around me were again picking up their various tear sponges. Possibly the most beautiful part of the performance, the lights dimmed and a single spot light beamed on Idina Menzel. The instruments were laid to rest and the microphone was turned OFF. Idina filed our ears with a crystal clear, A Capella version of “For Good,” one of the most gorgeous and beautifully written messages in the musical Wicked.
There were a lot of sniffles during this entire event but nothing like this. My sister had finally lost her composure and I had to hand her back the tissues that she had so lovingly offered me earlier in the show. Idina was singing directly to her in that moment and I was so happy to have my sister….my friend…with me in this moment.
Idina Menzel bowed to the multiple faces beaming back at her. She had filled our spirits with a songbird’s voice. We were so happy as she exited the stage. Marvin and the Philharmonic stayed still as she finally came back to the thunderous applause for a three part encore.
The song that we had all been waiting for was to follow: “Defying Gravity,” the defining song as her role of Elphaba in Wicked. The video is not great as the taper was trying to hide from security but the music is what is important and that comes across fine!
After “Defying Gravity,” Marvin Hamlisch grabbed the microphone and proclaimed:
“So, you chose the songs of all your favorite names in music but you haven’t sung one of MY songs…just saying.”
So, Idina took her seat on the stool provided for her as Marvin left his podium to take his place at the instrument that made him a legend…the grand piano. His first few taps of the ivories released the song immediately. Before Idina even sang the first few words I heard gasps of recognition around me. She was singing “What I Did For Love,” the Marvin Hamlisch‘s Tony award winning song from A Chorus Line. It was just Idina, Marvin and a piano.
Finally, dedicating the last song to her mother, her road nanny and biggest fan, she sang Annie‘s “Tomorrow.” A musical that her mother refused to let Idina try out for so that she could “be a real little kid.” It was so beautiful. There is really something about purity of voice and emotions felt in the music that instruments can’t touch.
Idina never choose a song from her cd, I Stand, and I wondered why? Not that I was complaining, but it almost felt expected being that it was newly released. However, in a room filled with Gleeks, Broadway junkies, wanna-be singers, Opera lovers, and Philharmonic followers, Idina Menzel offered up something for everyone. And there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when she finished!
“The Life of the Party” from The Wild Party
“I’m Not That Girl” from Wicked
“Love For Sale” from The New Yorkers / “Roxanne” by Sting
“No Day But Today” from Rent
“Look To The Rainbow” from Finian’s Rainbow
“Poker Face” as performed on Glee
“Funny Girl” from Funny Girl
“Don’t Rain On My Parade” from Funny Girl
“For Good” from Wicked
“Defying Gravity” from Wicked
“What I Did For Love” from A Chorus Line
“Tomorrow” from Annie