I have been fortunate to have spent some fantastic evenings at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. Highly enjoyable were the special screenings of Psycho, Casablanca, and The Wizard of Oz, during which the symphony provides the musical score. These were indeed impossible acts to follow, but eventually Liza Minnelli and her sequins popped in for a visit, and we all know how that went over for me. A few nights ago, I dyed my eyes to match my gown and floated down Van Ness Avenue to see Idina Menzel perform barefoot at the symphony . . . since then, I’ve been bragging about the experience to anyone who throws me even the most insincere form of “how are you?” This conversation starter of mine has a “hey look at my vacation slides” feel to it, yes, and it turned out that quite a number of folks had never heard of Miss Menzel. Tempting it was to burn for all of them a copy of a certain musical, but I was fresh out of the green CDs I buy at Walgreens . . . and, oh yes, apparently no one plays CDs anymore. It was in Wicked that the great Idina Menzel originated the role of Elphaba, the (un)fairly skinned young lady who is both forced into and chooses to become the Wicked Witch of the West. My abiding love for and attachment to this character matches the Witch’s own stubbornness in strength and is not to be mocked, particularly when discussing Margaret Hamilton’s should-have-won-an-Oscar performance in 1939.
Chills and goose bumps . . . so good you want to melt in your seat, but you stop yourself because you don’t want to miss the rest of her show. With and without a microphone, on stage and dashing through the aisles, Idina Menzel’s is a truly remarkable voice to hear and to feel. When the lights went down, I still could see her come out in the dark and stand behind her orchestra, the luminescence of her white dress refusing to remain in the dark. When the lights came up, Idina remained at the back of the stage and slowly the lyrics of her first song floated up to the first tier and found my well-guarded tear ducts: “Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high . . .” That witch!
I’m always impressed by anyone brave enough to sing this untouchable song outside the privacy of a car or shower. As expected, not only is Miss Menzel capable of nailing it, but she also brought tears to my usually dry eyes with the unique attachment that she now has to Oz and to Judy Garland. She went on to wallop us with numbers from Wicked, Rent, Cole Porter, and a bit of Barbra here and there, but with a single verse and chorus from “Over the Rainbow,” I surrendered to the Witch. Idina Menzel is more than just an unbelievable bundle of talent . . . you’ll believe in more than that before she’s finished with you.
Here’s to Judy on her 90th birthday, and here’s to one of her many courageous songs that continues to melt our hearts and minds . . . oh my!