Defying Expectations

Broadway belle Idina Menzel flies solo with a new album and concert tour.

BY Dan Avery

August 11 2008 12:00 AM ET

Idina Menzel has
made her reputation playing tough women -- Elphaba in Wicked, Patrick Dempsey's jilted girlfriend Nancy in
Enchanted -- and the role that started it all,
bisexual performance artist Maureen in Rent. "I'm not sure why it's worked out that way,"
muses the 37-year-old originally from Long Island, N.Y. "I
haven't consciously avoided the 'good girl' parts -- I think
it's just how I'm perceived. But I don’t
mind, because it's enabled me to take on some
really complex characters."

These days Menzel
is making her own music, touring the nation with her
new album, I Stand. It's her third effort, and her most personal
-- addressing insecurities, social issues, and her
relationship with husband Taye Diggs. "There's a
stigma about Broadway actresses going into the pop
world," she says. "I had to show the label I was
serious, so I really put my heart and soul into it. It's not
every day a Broadway singer goes on a tour bus with 10
other guys." Just before taking the stage in
Milwaukee, Menzel chatted with The Advocate about the
new record, Diggs, and the bittersweet end of Rent. 

How did I Stand come about? We recorded it over about 18 months in L.A.,
ending in spring of 2007. I was so lucky to get Glen
Ballard as my producer. He's worked with Dave Matthews
and No Doubt, and produced Alanis Morissette's Jagged
Little Pill
. Glen really encourages artists to
write their own music and craft their own sounds without
worrying about it being commercial.

After singing other people's music in shows like
Rent and Wicked -- beautifully, I
might add -- was it scary putting yourself in the
driver's seat?
There's a certain vulnerability in putting your
own thoughts out there for people to see and judge.
It's a little scary. But it’s the most
fulfilling part too. Well, I didn't want to alienate theater
fans, of course, but wanted to make a more mainstream
pop album.

Is there an overarching theme to the album? I didn’t set out to include one, but when
I look back, it's sort of about trying to be authentic
and in the moment. I was kind of struggling with who I
was and trying to confront my insecurities. So I guess it's
about wanting to live life in a rich, fulfilling way
and not letting the moment pass.

What inspired the first single, "Brave"? That’s the one song people really connect
with -- at meet-and-greets, fans tell me it helped
them get through some things that are a lot tougher
than what inspired me to write it. I mean, I was just having
a shitty day and used music to get me out of bed. I do
that a lot -- use music as therapy. 

Tags: Music

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