- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 16, 2015

John Travolta infamously butchered her name as “Adele Dazeen” before millions watching the 2014 Oscars telecast. But singer and actress Idina Menzel, in the best tradition of showbiz, rolled with the unexpected, performing best original song “Let It Go” flawlessly for the worldwide audience.

“We make a lot of jokes behind the scenes,” Miss Menzel told The Washington Times, adding that she has been tempted to pay the “favor” forward to other celebrities. Before introducing Mariah Carey at this year’s Billboard Music Awards, the New Yorker thought, “Wouldn’t people think it funny if I called her ‘Maria Curry’ or something,” she said with a laugh. “Then we decided no, that wouldn’t go over well.”

While Mr. Travolta’s gaffe became the stuff of Internet legend, it also gave Miss Menzel a bigger push onto the world stage — helped by the incredible staying power of “Let It Go” from the animated film “Frozen.”

“It’s very important to me that even though my profile has gotten bigger because of ‘Frozen,’ that I’m still able to connect with every single person in that audience,” Miss Menzel said of her world tour, which stops at Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Virginia, on Saturday evening. “That’s challenging to do the bigger the venues get.”

Miss Menzel came to the concert stage by way of Broadway, having originated the role of Maureen Johnson in “Rent” in 1996. Then came “Wicked” with Kristen Chenoweth, which turned the story of “The Wizard of Oz” on its head, and for which Miss Menzel was awarded a Tony for best leading actress in a musical for portraying Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West.

“People in the theater are like athletes, especially singers,” Miss Menzel said. “We have to train and stretch and build up our endurance and be able to perform under all different kinds of circumstances. [It] keeps me at a certain level of what I expect from myself.”

With a seeming affinity for new works, Miss Menzel headlined the New York premiere of “If/Then” last year, with music by Tom Kitt, whom she describes as “one of the most talented people I know.” The show won multiple Broadway.com audience awards, including favorite new musical.

The Great White Way prepared Miss Menzel for multiple costume changes, but one of the upsides of her solo show, she said, is getting to embody a “character” without switching garb.

“[If] I’m in green makeup as a witch or just up there in jeans and bare feet singing my songs I still have to take a risk and make myself really vulnerable in front of a live audience,” Miss Menzel said, “and allow myself to be seen, if you will. It’s still the soul of who I am that’s behind it all.

“Being in my own concert, I can take a breath, take my time, change the order of the set. And yet I’m singing for two hours straight — just me.”

Audience favorites from “Rent” will be on the tour bill, she said, because “I can put my microphone out and the audience can sing along. I make sure I include those songs that people really want to hear.”

She said spontaneity keeps her performances fresh, whether it be her “wardrobe malfunction” at Radio City Music Hall or a slipped four-letter word in front of young children in the front rows.

“I want to be perfect all the time, but I know that the more interesting performances aren’t,” she said. “They’re the ones with imperfections, where you’re going to feel something much more true and honest and idiosyncratic.”

The entertainer hopes she can encourage other women to get rid of their fears and pursue their dreams.

“I think [being] strong, fierce women [is] something we grapple with,” she said. “[Women] can somehow suppress that because we’re afraid of seeming threatening or being disliked.”

Miss Menzel is keen to maintain onstage the energy she had as a young woman, which is key to connecting with her young fans, be they girls or boys.

“When I look back on my younger self I just knew that I was going to do something special with my life, and people were going to know who I was because of my singing and acting,” the singer said. “As you get older maybe you’re more aware of the world and the things people say about you.

“So I try to harness that younger self and [recall] that she wouldn’t have taken no for an answer and just knew she was good at what she did.”

The young lady who had so much self-confidence grew to be a woman who could turn a potentially uncomfortable moment on the world’s stage into humor. About a year after Mr. Travolta’s infamous flub, Miss Menzel introduced him at an event as “Glom Gazingo.” The “Saturday Night Fever” star joined her at the podium, all smiles, and the two shared a good-natured hug and a laugh.

Timelessness is part of Miss Menzel’s musical repertoire, she said, whether it be themes of love or empowerment.

“Every show, every song is just part of a different time in the chronology of your life,” she said. “A certain song can hit me in a different way on a different night or different time in my life. I think that’s what’s so beautiful about what I do.”

• Eric Althoff can be reached at twt@washingtontimes.com.

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