Posts Tagged ‘Idina Menzel’

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My jolly good fun friend Jessica and I were working our way through a delicious round two at our favorite wine bar when a thought dropped out of the sky and crushed me, right there in my fabulous shoes. I was debating my options for the following day over a glass of Pinot noir (one that turned out to be too easy to drink); either I was going to get all the work done that I had taken home that evening, or I was going to take advantage of the sunny day and see the latest film adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s Oz stories. Due to lack of leadership from the men and women behind the curtain, work has been cycloning out of control lately, so the choice was pretty clear to Jessica, me, and our empty wine glasses. Despite low expectations, the next afternoon somehow I found myself standing in line at the box office. Eating away at me more than the criminal ticket price—a price that would give Mom nightmares for a month—was that single thought from the previous evening, just as haunting sober as it was sloshy: the Wicked Witch of the West is not supposed to have cleavage.

Launching the Land of Oz and its inhabitants into the future hopefully keeps alive our precious 1939 classic, and viewing the returns to Oz with any sense of competition borders slightly on the absurd. How does one compare Fairuza Balk to Judy Garland or Kristin Chenoweth to Billie Burke . . . and doing so even necessary? From page to screen or page to stage, magic comes in many forms, and no two actors will interpret a character in precisely the same way. That said, this recent reincarnation of the West’s best was anything but. Remember when the science majors had to fulfill an arts requirement before graduation and ended up looking bored and stiff in their drama class productions? Scenes went on too long while plots and backstories were revealed too quickly, and above all, it felt disrespectful to the late and great Margaret Hamilton. At least her costume designers had the decency to cover up her lady parts. Rounding out the group and giving Oz its latest makeover was a politically correct and diverse ensemble of extras from around the globe . . . an issue with which I always have, if you’ll pardon the expression, mixed feelings. When I can see the effort, its intended effect is ruined.

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Tears don’t come to me nearly as easily as they did when I was a child. That quirky little boy cried at anything and everything, so maybe the water supply evaporated all too quickly in my early years. These days when I feel a tear roll down my cheek, I tend to look up at the ceiling to see if the roof is leaking. There must be a “heartstrings safety net” that Oz filmmakers bank on when they slam us with prequels, sequels, and remakes . . . subtle reminders of my attachment to MGM’s 1939 masterpiece can’t help but stir up my dusty tear ducts. Miraculously my eyes may have experienced a heavy mist at times, but no tears actually flowed during this latest revision. An unusual reference to Snow White and original makeup tests for early visions of 1939’s witch were oddly placed and practically ruined a scene for which I had been waiting an hour. With a hunched posture and flimsy foot placement, this newest Witch of the West looked incredibly uncomfortable on her broom. Not once did I feel drawn to any of the female villains, and believe you me, that’s the acid test ‘round these parts. As I should have said to every girl I ever kissed, this isn’t working for me! A good witch performance is judged by how much my brutally honest child within longs to emulate both the character and the actress:

Margaret Hamilton, check!

Idina Menzel, check!

Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer, check!

Angelica Huston (hey, I guess witches can have cleavage), check !

This latest group of gals in Oz the Great and Powerful . . . we appreciate your efforts. I applaud anyone who has the courage not only to get in front of an audience but also reinterpret any roles as iconic as these. But ladies, these things must be done delicately, or you hurt the spell.

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Dear 2012,

For the horror and wretchedness you threw at us in the last 12 months, I could peel you like a pear, and God Himself would call it justice. As satisfying as that would feel, it turns out that life’s good times were made that much sweeter by the bitterness of your reign. It’s with a smile that I reflect upon some of the highlights.

The year began with my falling deeper in love with Bogie in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). Not too stinkin’ of a start!

The year ended a week ago, as I unwrapped not one but two copies of David Thomson’s The Big Screen for my birthday. Autumn brought me not two but three text messages quoting Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter: “Henry, I have a confession . . . I don’t much like our children.”

A summer visit from Dad brought into my life not four but five films of Mae West’s, a sharp and shapely woman admired by generations of fathers and sons for countless reasons.

Right before Thanksgiving, Olympia Dukakis reminded me of her limitless acting abilities in Elektra.

Two blessed friendships led me on trips to Hollywood, Dollywood and Graceland. Keeping me company on the road to each, Judy was right there for my entertainment, forgetting the words to “You Go to My Head” during every Carnegie Hall performance.

Idina Menzel walked barefoot on to the stage at Davies Hall and sang “Over the Rainbow.” A few months later, the San Francisco Symphony performed flawlessly the score of The Wizard of OzSandy and I each got a permanent, just for the occasion.

It was in my favorite restaurant where my favorite waiter told me Americans had elected in favor of protecting Big Bird . . . Michelle and I celebrated by ordering the chicken.

On October 6th, 2012, my love was justified, as no song lyric can touch the likes of “Rita Hayworth gave good face.”

And for all the other wonderful times and films that filled the year, I am grateful to you, dear and wretched 2012, for I predict that your successor will succeed where you failed.

Now be gone, before somebody drops a house on you!

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Last Sunday Judy Garland would have turned 90 years old. I’ve long taken care of fawning over our beloved Judy, so this year I’ll let another voice chime in, one that’s slightly better than mine.

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!

Add Judy to your queue.