Sunday, July 31, 2011

Which Way to the Stage?

I am a Christian. A believer. A follower of Christ.

I have a degree in Theatre.

God made me enthusiastic about the craft. I am passionate about pieces that convey the human condition. Some of my deepest dreams dwell in the performing arts.

God made me enthusiastic about ministry and seeing lives changed by the power of the cross. I am passionate about my purpose. My deepest truths dwell in my Savior and what He has done for me.

Sometimes these two things have often felt as if they stood in opposition to one another. As a nearly thirtysomething, I have almost completely reconciled my love for the arts with my purpose as a believer. At 18, I struggled to balance the two. I searched and learned and enjoyed and loved art. I stumbled upon a show that seemed to be the antithesis of my faith and wondered what to do with it. I loved it for the way it portrayed a slice of life. Someone's life. Anyone's life. I came to the vague realization that the glimpse into another world, a world with wildly different values, did not need to change my faith or my beliefs.

I was 17 when my Play Productions class performed pieces from Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, West Side Story and Rent. We didn't really discuss the plots of each show, we simply memorized the songs and belted out the lyrics. "Seasons of Love" and "Will I" from Jonathan Larson's Rent climbed under my skin. They twisted and turned and, in the end, lodged very close to my heart.

I was 18 and in college when I downloaded nearly the entire soundtrack using the now infamous Napster (and later purchased it) and, with headphones on, first heard the isolated voice of an artist who was living in America at the end of the millennium. An actress who knew, because her composer had died of an aortic aneurysm on the eve of opening night, that there is no day but today. It was, perhaps, the most unique sound I'd heard.

And this began my obsession with Idina Menzel.

Of course, if you know anything about anything about theatre, you know that she went on to win a Tony for originating the Broadway role of Elphaba in Wicked. And if you know anything about anything about attractive African-American actors, you know she's married to Taye Diggs. But back then she was the girl who sang Over the Moon. And I loved her.

I went so far as to perform that particular songologue for my Godspell audition. Complete with a giant white cow on wheels. Oh yes. I did. And I so got the part. One of my huge college research papers looked at Puccini's La Boheme and Larson's updated rock opera. I compared. I contrasted. That semester I lived and breathed the histories of both shows. I followed the members of Rent's original cast as they moved on to other projects. And, as time went on, I fell deeper and deeper in love with the girl who first played Maureen.

So I followed her career on the Internet, wishing and dreaming of a day when I could see her perform. I bought her albums. When Wicked began to take life and breathe all on its own, I trolled the web for information. I sat, glued to the television, waiting to hear her sing Defying Gravity at the Tony's. And then I held my breath as they called her name and handed one to her.

In the fall of 2005, depleted from many moons of infertility treatment, I went to New York City to visit my friend who was studying at Columbia. And it just so happened that Idina was performing at The Public in a show called See What I Wanna See. Obviously we got tickets. I had the opportunity to sit a few rows away from a performer that I admired on epic levels. It was six years after I'd first heard that voice. And it was so worth it.

Of course, in the end, she exited some back door and I didn't get the chance to trip and fall over my words as I asked for an autograph. Looking back, this is probably for the best. She probably wouldn't have wanted to be my best friend. She wouldn't have asked me to join her for a cup of coffee. We wouldn't have summered together in the Hamptons. And what was I anyway, a twelve-year-old? No. I was married. With an embryo happily living inside my body--although that was a piece of information I wouldn't actually have for another five weeks. And the only other time I ever waited for an actor's autograph I was in college, it was Ellen Burstyn, I mumbled something ridiculous and it did not go well. So in hindsight, I'm really rather glad she avoided the situation. Even if I do plan on calling her on it next summer. In the Hamptons.

A few months ago, a friend of mine who knows that I have a platonic crush on Idina Menzel found out that she was coming to Park City. Last night she performed with the Utah Symphony and you can bet your bottom dollar that I was in the center of the 12th row. I'd feel totally stupid for writing that Annie bit if she hadn't actually sang that song. In fact, I still feel totally stupid. Let's move on and pretend it didn't happen.

I made my poor husband go with me and, you know what, he liked it. He'll probably pretend he didn't in order to protect his manhood but I know he did. You know why? Because she's amazing. That's why. Because her voice is, I don't know, off the hook. Or something equally dramatic and more my generation. Something like, rad. Or tubular. And because she is absolutely hilarious. I already knew this from listening to all kinds of sound bytes from her performances and she did not disappoint.

"So I was in a show called Wicked," she said as the crowd went wild. "Oh. Okay. You saw it?" The crowd went wild again. "I was the green one." *Insert laughter. "There aren't a lot of green celebrities." Dramatic pause. "There's Shrek. Kermit the Frog. Gumby. And Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West."

We were in an outdoor amphitheater and when it started raining she apologized and asked us if we wanted to go home. Of course the resounding answer was no. Then she said, "Well then I'll just come out there with you. Really. I will." She started to come out and then stopped. "Wait. Actually, I might get electrocuted."

There were many hysterical moments but none quite as funny to me as when she talked about guest starring on Glee. "I'd just had a baby. I was feeling fat and hormonal. I tried not to be offended when they asked me to play the mother of a girl who, in real life, is 25." Idina, for the record, just turned 40. She then launched into a hilarious one-sided conversation about how she, as an actress who has been awarded a Tony, could not make sense of the fact that they wanted her and Lea Michele to sing a duet of Lady Gaga's Poker Face for their big mother/daughter reunion. "I mean," she said, "I didn't really know the song but it didn't sound like a mother/daughter reunion to me. It has some risque lyrics, and uh, some references to, uh, baked goods. But I said, 'Um. Okay. I'll do it." Now, I make a point of not listening to or even trying to analyze Lady Gaga and I was incredibly relieved to know that Idina was just as confused as I was. And the baked goods bit, well, I'm still laughing. (If you look up the lyrics to Poker Face--not that I'm recommending it--you'll see what I mean.)

She sang a song from Rent, one from The Wild Party and a few from Wicked. She did selections from other shows as well as songs that aren't from Broadway. In the end she belted out Defying Gravity and it was the best I've ever heard it done live. And I've seen Wicked three times. Of course, every time I've seen it, the poor girl playing Elphaba is twenty feet off the ground and hanging by a cord so, you know, that probably makes it a little harder.

And every other time it wasn't being performed by Idina Menzel. I think we've already established that I'm a little biased.

This version is nothing like the way she did it last night. No. Last night sounded much more Broadwayesque. But if you don't have a clue who she is, at least this will give you a little, tiny idea.


  1. We went to see Wicked in its original run on broadway and it was the saddest day - Idina was out sick! So while we did get Kristen Chenowith as Glinda, we had an Elphaba understudy (although still fantastic). All that to say I understand the obsession. And i was equally confused about poker face.

  2. Three times?? I'm so jealous! Wicked is in Atlanta next month and I've been BEGGING Jamie to take me. And trying to decide how mad he'd be if I just bought myself tickets behind his back. And yes, Poker Face? What the heck? How do you get a talented singer like that to come on your show and have her sing that song?

  3. Why must you keep writing about stuff I HAVE to comment on? Ok, I love Idina too, although I'm not necessarily that big a theater buff (I love it but don't know much about it.) But about Glee... and Poker Face. Yes, it was weird, but it was also the Gaga episode. And as twisted as that song is I think it's about trying to keep your cool in front of some one you love who you really really want to love you back. And how you do not want to "play your hand" too soon and spill it about your feelings and scare them away. (Except probably if it's the right person you can totally do that and still end up together, just ask me about Matt, but that's beside the point.) So in the show I totally "got it" that they sang that song because it was like they were too afraid to show what they were really feeling to one another as the long lost mother and daughter. Or something like that. :)

  4. I'm going to step out of lurking mode and say I still have a fond spot in my heart of playing Juliet to your Mrs. Capulet in that year of Play Productions. I remember your dedication to rehearsing our scene over and over, and how we decided all on our own that Mrs. Capulet would TOTALLY slap Juliet in the middle of the scene and then throw her hair brush at her. Yay for fun memories!

  5. i'm glad one of your dreams came true and that it was such a magical experience. also, in some parallel universe, maybe the one where you and idina vacation in the hamptons, mr. diggs and i are married.