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.