The untold truth of Idina Menzel

Idina Menzel is part of a very exclusive club of entertainers: A veritable legend on Broadway who crossed over into the mainstream via movies, television, and pop music. Menzel was a Tony Award-nominated standout in the original cast of Rent back in 1996, but she solidified her role in theatrical history in 2003 by portraying the witchy Elphaba in the original Broadway production of Wicked. Having established two mega-hits on the Great White Way, Menzel moved into film, co-starring in the movie adaptation of Rent and the Disney comedy Enchanted. Her association with the House of Mouse proved fruitful, as the studio would cast her as the voice of ice queen Elsa in Frozen, which would go on to become the highest-grossing animated film of all time (later surpassed by Frozen 2). A big part of that movie’s success: Menzel’s soaring and timeless rendition of “Let It Go,” Frozen‘s Oscar-winning Broadway-style soundtrack cut.

Menzel is a celebrity and hero to fans of musicals and cartoons alike, and it’s been quite a journey for the performer. Here’s a look into the life of Idina Menzel.

How Idina Menzel made Rent

There are only a handful of major productions staged in and around Broadway each year, but a plethora of talented performers who want to be in them. The highest level of musical theater is a cutthroat, competitive world for young actors, singers, and dancers, and they’ve got to do whatever it takes to get the edge over their colleagues. Idina Menzel landed her first major role in the original cast of Jonathan Larson’s Rent, a modern-day, New York-set rock version of the old French opera La Boheme. The role: a multimedia artist named Maureen struggling through her first same-sex relationship. Menzel heard about the show early in its process, and wanted in. 

“I had a boyfriend who was working at an acting agency,” Menzel told Playbill. “He faxed my resume kind of secretly through to [director of casting] Bernie Telsey. I got in.” However, she wasn’t all that moved by the show, at first. “I needed a job,” she said. “I just went in. I needed a gig.”

A Wicked story about Idina Menzel

The one role with which Idina Menzel is most associated — now and probably always — is Elphaba, the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, reimagined as a young woman in the 2003 Broadway musical Wicked as her relationship with good witch Glinda (Kristin Chenoweth, originally) ebbs and flows. Menzel won a Tony Award for portraying Elphaba, and it’s a role she landed despite an audition mishap. To prepare, she learned the show’s standout song, “Defying Gravity.” 

“I practiced the really high note, and I got to that part, where you go, ‘You won’t bring me down,” Menzel told Vogue. “And I totally choked.” But she wouldn’t let it bring her down. “I just said the F-word so loud at the top of my lungs, and I looked at the accompanist like, ‘Don’t you start to play on or cut me off,’ and then I took a breath,” and continued. Menzel says that director Joe Mantello later told her that this moment is the one that landed her the role.

Menzel won’t be starring in the film version of Wicked, set to hit theaters in December 2021. “I would die to be in [the movie], except I’m afraid Kristin and I…they told us we’re a little over the age for that,” Menzel said on Watch What Happens Live (via Cosmopolitan).

Idina Menzel's final performance in her biggest musical fell through

As starring in a massive Broadway musical is a grind — actors do eight full shows a week — and it can get boring to play the same role for too long, most performers on the Great White Way eventually move on from even their biggest gigs. In January 2005, Idina Menzel decided to leave her role as Elphaba in Wicked after 16 months. 

According to the New York Times, Menzel’s last performance was supposed to come on January 9, but that unfortunately fell through due to a scary fall on Menzel’s part. During a matinee show the day prior, a trap door below Menzel malfunctioned, and she suddenly fell several feet. The actress suffered a fractured rib in the mishap, ending the show early for the packed house. (Crew members called out for “a doctor in the house” while Menzel was taken to a hospital via ambulance, where her ribs were bandaged and doctors released her later that day. Understudy Shoshana Bean finished the show after the 45-minute medical delay. But the show must go on, at least in part. Menzel still took to the stage at the Gershwin Theater on the day of what should have been her farewell performance, albeit in a tracksuit, and bandaged up, to say goodbye. She received a five-minute-long standing ovation.

Before she was Frozen, she was nearly Tangled

Along with Rent and Wicked, it would seem that none of Idina Menzel’s most prominent and successful roles came in a straightforward manner. She had to work hard and try some do-it-yourself methods to get producers at Disney to realize she was the right fit to portray Elsa in the 2013 animated feature Frozen. 

Speaking with Billboard, Menzel said she was considered for a major role in Disney’s 2010 Rapunzel deconstruction Tangled, which wound up starring singer/actress Mandy Moore and Broadway star Donna Murphy. Menzel obviously didn’t get the part, but the film’s casting director, Jamie Sparer Roberts, had recorded Menzel’s vocal audition on her phone — a take on the Beatles’ “Blackbird.” She liked it enough to call Menzel back in to audition for a future Disney feature with female protagonists: Frozen. Menzel increased her chances of getting cast by teaming up with future co-star Kristen Bell (who voiced Elsa’s sister, Anna) to record a duet of “Wind Beneath My Wings” accompanied by piano in Menzel’s home.

How Idina Menzel got Glee-ful

There are a handful of celebrity twins out there — unrelated stars who closely resemble one another. Think Jessica Chastain and Bryce Dallas Howard, or Idina Menzel and Lea Michele. But not only do the two actresses look like they’re family, they’re also big-voiced Broadway stars. By the time Michele jumped from the stage to television with the musical dramedy Glee in 2009, theatrical circles were already aware of the similarities. 

“We knew that existed far, far before the TV world did,” Menzel’s then husband Taye Diggs told Fancaster (via The Hollywood Reporter). Meanwhile, Menzel ached to be on Glee. “My husband and I TiVo it every week and we were just so jealous, we couldn’t believe that we didn’t have a show like that when we first got out of Rent,” Menzel told Hollywood Crush (via MTV News). She added, “We just wanted to be a part of it in some way. I didn’t think it would happen, and thankfully people in my camp got in touch with their peeps, and it happened!” 

Producers cast Menzel as show choir director Shelby Corcoran, the estranged mother of Michele’s character, Rachel Berry. “The gig came three months after I popped a baby out so I felt fat as all hell, and I was Lea Michele’s mom — like, could I just be her older sister?” Menzel said at a Tribeca Film Festival event (via Broadway World). “I had to get over myself a little bit.”

What it feels like to be Adele Dazeem

At the 2014 Academy Awards, big-time Hollywood actor John Travolta had one job: Introduce Frozen voice actress and singer Idina Menzel to sing Best Original Song nominee (and eventual winner) “Let It Go.” At first, Travolta, dutifully read off the teleprompter and built hype for the potential show highlight, calling the song “gorgeously talented” and its singer “wickedly talented” (alluding to Menzel’s Tony-winning tenure in Wicked). Then all the Welcome Back, Kotter star had to do was say the name “Idina Menzel,” but he didn’t, bafflingly introducing her as “Adele Dazeem.” Yikes.

Menzel was elsewhere on the Oscars stage, waiting for her cue, and already out of sorts. As she later told Billboard, she was just three days out from her first performances in a new musical called If/Then, and was still emotionally raw after announcing her split from husband Taye Diggs. “[Travolta’s error] threw me for a minute, but then I just got back on track and reminded myself of where I was,” Menzel said. She added that Travolta “was really gracious and sent this gorgeous email” along with flowers to smooth things over. At the 2015 Academy Awards, Menzel gave Travolta some comical comeuppance, introducing him by the name “Glom Gazingo.” (Then he touched Menzel’s face a bunch, called her “my darling,” and held her for just a bit too long.)

Why should Idina Menzel buy love when she can Rent?

First mounted on Broadway in 1996, Rent was a landmark event in theater, not to mention the personal lives of its stars. It won the Tony Award for Best Musical, a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for creator Jonathan Larson, and made stars out of original cast members like Idina Menzel, who played a daffy protest performance artist named Maurren, and Taye Diggs, who portrayed the bohemian-turned-rich guy villain Benjamin Coffin III.

Rent also created a backstage love, or “show-mance” in theatrical parlance for Menzel and Diggs. Coupled up for years before tying the knot in 2003, the pair went on to appear in each other’s projects, including the TV shows Private Practice and Kevin Hill, the movies Just a Kiss and the 2005 film adaptation of Rent, where both actors reprised the roles that launched them to stardom. The two separated in 2013 and finalized a divorce in 2015, although Menzel found love again, and oddly enough, it was to another male Rent costar. After first appearing in public with him at the 2015 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, according to USA Today, in 2017 Menzel wed Aaron Lohr, whom she called “the love of my life” and who had a small role as Steve in the 2005 film adaptation of Rent, which also starred Menzel. (Apparently, she has a type, and it’s guys talented enough to get cast in Rent.)

Does Idina Menzel have any kids?

Six years into their marriage, Idina Menzel and her first husband, Taye Diggs, started a family. In September 2009, according to People, Menzel gave birth to a baby boy named Walker Diggs. While Menzel and Diggs divorced years ago, as of this writing, they continue to co-parent Walker together. 

In 2019, Diggs told Us Weekly that his son is an old soul: “Nine years old and going on 48.” Indeed, at eight years old, he was up for the important task of walking his mother down the aisle for her 2017 wedding to Aaron Lohr, which was “magical,” according to Menzel’s tweet announcing the occasion. But there is one aspect of life with Idina Menzel by which young Walker Diggs cannot abide: He’s sick of “Let it Go,” his mom’s signature song. “My son tells me not to sing it out loud as well. He just tells me to shut up all the time,” Menzel told Radio’s Two’s Breakfast Show (via the Lincoln Journal Star). “He’s embarrassed of me even though I’m a really good singer,” she added during a radio interview with Ryan Seacrest. Celebrity kids: They’re just like non-celebrity kids!

How can Idina Menzel belt even when she's ill?

While Idina Menzel has a superhuman voice that even the people in the cheap seats in the far back of a Broadway theater can hear loud and clear, she is but a mortal human being, and is thus subject to the occasional sickness. Indeed, using her pipes to their limit night after night is more likely to lead Menzel to need the occasional rest. 

Menzel worked as a wedding singer during college, a gig which allowed her to try out different singing styles on familiar jazz favorites. That’s how Menzel learned the traditional jazz technique of improvisation, which she uses to create different vocal plans of her part in a musical. “On a day that I have a cold and I’m not feeling well, I can improvise. I can take the melody somewhere so that I don’t have to hit the highest note, and I’m comfortable with it,” she told Playbill. “I give myself an A, a B, and a C show, which means if I can’t hit the highest, most acrobatic notes because it’s that time of month or I have a cold or I had a big fight with my ex-husband” she can still turn in a performance for the ages because she’s a professional, darn it.

From Broadway to FM

Generally speaking, the worlds of mainstream pop music and Broadway are almost entirely separate. Music has its powerfully-voiced stars — Adele, Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson — and Broadway has luminaries, like Audra McDonald, Sutton Foster, and Bernadette Peters. Idina Menzel, however, runs in both worlds, and that is a rarity. 

In March 2014, Menzel’s indefatigable version of “Let it Go” from the movie Frozen reached the upper echelon of the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart, making her the first Tony winner to score a top 10 hit. The goal of most any pop singer, it took Menzel nearly two decades of trying to make that happen. After her breakout role in Rent, Menzel released her first album, Still I Can’t Be Still, in 1998, which Billboard says sold a measly 18,000 copies. A team up with Alanis Morissette’s collaborator Glen Ballard for the 2008 album I Stand sold marginally better, but not enough to break Menzel out of her niche. “For years, I’ve tried to pursue a recording career,” she told Billboard. “I’ve been signed and dropped a million times. People say Broadway actors can’t cross over, but it seems society is ready to accept a theater person singing a song on the radio.”

Camping the Idina Menzel way

In 2010, Idina Menzel and a number of other entertainment professionals (including Menzel’s then husband and fellow Broadway veteran Taye Diggs) as well as social workers and activists established A BroaderWay Foundation. Its chief aim, according to its website, is “amplifying the power of young women through the arts.” 

One of the biggest ongoing projects of Menzel’s foundation is Camp BroaderWay. Held each summer at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in the mountainous Berkshires region of Massachusetts, as many as 60 girls and young women from under-served communities in inner city New York get to go off and do traditional summer camp activities like swim and rock climb, and then also attend classes in theatrical skills taught by the likes of top-shelf professionals such as Diggs and Tony-nominated composer Jeanine Tesori. Using what they learned, campers close out their stay at camp by putting on an original 30 minute stage work. 

“It was important to me that since we’re using the arts to help these girls find their creative selves, we don’t just put on Guys and Dolls or something,” Menzel told USA Today. “They write their own futures and wishes and dreams, and they’re really surprised by what they’re capable of, and moved by it.”

What's Idina Menzel's net worth?

Idina Menzel has been around the entertainment world for a long, and has been an instrumental figure in a number of extremely popular projects, including movies, live theater, television, or recorded music. This is all to say that Menzel makes, and has made, a lot of money. 

The best-selling album of Menzel’s music career is her 2014 seasonal offering Holiday Wishes, certified gold by the RIAA for half a million copies moved, while her most successful single is, unsurprisingly, her recording of “Let it Go” from Frozen, purchased or downloaded around eight million times. The Frozen soundtrack was the second-best-selling album of 2014, while Menzel easily brings in more than $250,000 in ticket sales for a single live concert. 

She’s also been an integral part of two of the longest-running (and thus highest-grossing) shows in Broadway history, Rent and Wicked, not to mention the cast of billion-grossing blockbusters like both Frozen movies, and the $340 million hit Enchanted. With all that and more in mind, according to Celebrity Net Worth Menzel boasts a net worth about $10 million.

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