Review: Idina Menzel, The Usher Hall

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You may not know her name but the chances are that you’ve heard Idina Menzel. Whether it was on the original soundtrack of Rent, or maybe as conflicted Shelby in Glee as you channel surfed, or when you took the kids to the cinema to see her as Susan in Enchanted, it’s hard not to pay attention to the big voice that comes from this little Long Island lady.

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But it’s not just her numerous musical roles that have won Menzel not only a Tony but a legion of adoring fans, it’s what she represents. Many of the characters that Menzel has portrayed have particular resonance with both the LGBT community and young music minded teenagers looking for a strong female role model – the flirtatious bisexual Maureen in Rent and, via Wicked, Elphaba who suffered more hardships being green than Kermit the Frog to name but two.

So no wonder she received such a warm welcome from the Usher Hall’s audience last night when she opened with Over The Rainbow and flashed through a series of classic gay and girl friendly songs. A set that earned her a standing ovation.

Yet Menzel’s delivery is somewhat like marmite, to the young fans in the audience, she is the first point of introduction to Cole Porter and Barbra Streisand and thus above reproach but to the Joni Mitchell generation she could easily be taken for a performer who isn’t investing their all in the performance in order to save their tired voice and whose enunciation and vocal emphasis could be polished by a judicious director.

Menzel’s saving grace, however, is her wit. Starting out in the daunting world of wedding singing as a young teenager, the singer knows how to work an audience. From the off she holds her microphone out into the audience, expecting them to sing back the lyrics to The Wizard and I, chats openly about the lie-in she had with her son and the mischief she gets up to on tour. For many, the highlight of the evening was Menzel’s clever Rent duet Take Me or Leave Me, which she performed with a number of astonishingly talented audience members, some of whom comfortably gave the performer a run for her money.