When Idina Menzel sashays onto the stage at the Minneapolis Convention Center on Saturday for the annual PACER Center benefit, she’ll size up the audience.
When you’re a star of Broadway (“Wicked,” “Rent,” “If/Then”), recordings (“Let It Go”), TV (“Glee”) and movies (“Frozen”), you have various constituencies.
“I have to look into the audience. I don’t know how many kids are going to be in this audience,” she said by phone from Los Angeles. “I just try to do my show. I have to reconcile this demographic of young girls in blue dresses, older gay men, theatergoing parents. I try to do all kinds of different stuff.”
Of course, she’s going to deliver “Defying Gravity” and “Let It Go,” but will she throw in covers of Radiohead, Joni Mitchell, the Red Hot Chili Peppers or other surprises?
After dropping off her 6-year-old son at school on a recent morning, Menzel, 44, talked about “Frozen 2,” pop stardom and performing barefoot, among other topics.
Q: You will be performing at a benefit for PACER, which works with children with disabilities. How do you vet the benefits you choose?
A: It all comes down to how much I want to be away from my son, to be honest. So it’s more about scheduling. OK, he’s with his dad so I won’t feel so guilty about being away that weekend. Of course, when [the benefit is] for children, for some reason, I’m just drawn to that.
Q: What do you do when you know you can’t reach your high notes during a particular performance?
A: It happens a lot. I’m really good at improvising musically. I give myself an A, B and C show — all of them are really good but C has melodies that are a little easier. I’ve learned it’s not about the high notes that makes people get goosebumps, it’s about your connection, your heart and your soul with the song. … And the more successful you are, you put the mic out in the audience and they know the words and they’ll sing the high notes for you.
Q: Compare singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Super Bowl last year with doing it at the White House’s Easter Egg Roll last month.
A: The [Easter Egg Roll] was pretty intense. I met the president right before and my son got to meet him. I told him I might put a cheat sheet down ’cause you make me very nervous. He said, “Don’t worry, if you forget the words, I’ll sing it.” To have both the Obamas standing on either side of you, the fear of screwing it up is pretty crazy. I had to focus on my son, so it took me out of the nerves a little bit. The Super Bowl was equal in nerves. The Super Bowl is bigger because it was live and the Easter Roll just streamed on some little thing but the president is watching you. They gave me the China Room to vocalize in.
Q: You’re working on a pop album — is it a goal for you to be a pop star?
A: Maybe it was a long time ago. Now I’m less goal-oriented. I’ve been around enough to see the ebb and flow of the music industry. I’ve been disappointed a lot. I just do it to work with the coolest people I can and they’re going to help me learn. “Frozen” kind of bridged a gap for me and got me on some pop radio stations.
Q: When you perform “Let It Go” in concert and invite the kids to come sing with you, you become a mom as much as a star.
A: Is that a compliment or was it kinda lame? When a crazy parent throws their little 3-year-old on a 6-foot stage, it becomes a precarious situation. There’s definitely a maternal thing that happens. I have my own connection to the song and what it means to me as a woman. It’s similar to Elphaba in “Wicked.” The two characters have a commonality: The really strong, fierce, unique woman who’s afraid to be all of those things for fear of being alienated. As women, we often worry about being our stronger, smarter self because someone’s not going to like it. I’ve felt that way in my life.
When I sing it surrounded by kids, it becomes a whole ’nother thing. It’s about kids finding their voice. I like to see kids be proud enough to sing out literally and figuratively.
Q: How much work have you done on “Frozen 2”?
A: Not that much. They’re still writing it. We know they want to do it with us and we want to do it with them.
Q: What does your son think of “Frozen”?
A: We were talking about it over pancakes this morning with a friend of mine and Walker said, “Aucccch. It’s so boring.” He’s a boy, there’s princesses. “Frozen” takes Mommy away from Walker. It means there’s strangers that come up to me. It’s just work to him, and it gets in the way. He does have an emotional connection to his mom singing, and it moves him but he doesn’t know why.
Q: Why do you often perform barefoot?
A: Honestly, I’m not that comfortable in heels. I like to feel the floor. I feel like I can get more into my technical diaphragm support as a singer. I give myself songs and notes that are challenging and to be worrying about teetering on heels — it’s one less thing to worry about. But certain outfits don’t look good in barefoot. So you have to have a trade-off once in a while. At the Oscars when I sang — nobody saw this — I had on the biggest platform, ugliest shoes underneath my dress so I’d feel tall, thin and pretty but they were like standing on blocks they were so strong.