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Bewitching Idina

March 19, 2009 By:
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Idina Menzel was green before green was the new black.

Eco-excellent: Well, she was also black-hatted. But then, when you're portraying the green-glittered "Wicked" Witch of the West, which end is up is sometimes a cauldron of bewitching contradictions.

Which, in a way, is how she ends up on the Keswick Theatre (www.keswicktheatre.com) stage, where the woman who battled Glinda is now in Glenside on March 25, offering marching orders for her many fans: Come and see the sultry and sexy Menzel make mincemeat out of any preconceived notions that Broadway stars aren't brave enough to broaden their horizons.

Menzel is about to rock and roil: "Brave" was released last year to critical and fan acclaim, coming off her "I Stand" album, which will be a singing source of the star's set at the Keswick.

Where Menzel stands is obvious: in the forefront of fresh new talent while striding two dissimilar stages -- theater and rock. The witchy woman who won a Tony in "Wicked" and a nod for one in the original "Rent," controls a career that ricochets with acclaim.

Defying gravity? She gives new lift to Newton's Law.

The performer, whose first name is Hebrew for "gentle," does not go gentle into the night -- her gorgeous features face off with a sensuous style that sings of brains and beauty -- and bashert.

Well, she did get her start as a wedding/Bar and Bat Mitzvah singer at functions, and parked her very talents on the Parkway here, her last pre-"Rent" gig being a 1995 New Year's Eve wedding at the Philadelphia Four Seasons.

A seasoned performer who loves spring training: Menzel's latest effort, "Hope," was released recently in a project in which she plays ball with Major League Baseball. The single doubles as a fund raiser for "Stand Up 2 Cancer."

And the triple-threat singer, actress and composer knows home runs: She has had successful runs at clubs close to her New York digs with husband/actor Taye Diggs, also an alum of "Rent" and "Wicked."

There is, indeed, a lot to dig about this award-winning bewitching "Wicked" grad. With a come-hither voice that comes from the heart, she is just a beat away from even more producers -- theatrical and recording -- beating a path to her dressing-room door.

And to think it all started with ... "Hava Negillah"?

Have a memory: It was those performances at the Jewish functions at which the erstwhile witch brewed her beguiling black magic.

"Those performances, like the one at the Four Seasons, helped me carve out the kind of singer that I am; there were lessons to learn, and they helped give me stage presence, which I was able to use" in theater and in clubs.

In films, she reprised her role as Maureen Johnson in "Rent." But it was in "Ask the Dust" -- in which Menzel portyed an intriguing Jewish character, Vera Rivkin -- that she left her co-stars in the dust. That 2006 film was an enchanted endorsement for an acting career that last landed her on screen with a major role in "Enchanted."

But listen to hear wax lyrical about her latest projects, and get the feeling that the 38-year-old singer with the purr-fect lips and seductive delivery is overwhelmingly in synch with the underdog. An iPod play of "I Stand" stands up for that very notion.

"I identify with people who are underdogs," she says. "I've often myself felt outside the norm."

But could it be that the girl with the normal -- ideal -- upbringing by a solid Jewish family in Long Island longed for anything in her life?

"The older I got, the more crazy I was."

She's not speaking clinically, of course; just collectively. "I was always different."

One begs to differ:"Well, I don't know how different I really was. I guess a lot of people experience what I do, being filled with doubts, experiencing fears. After all, I did grow up in a normal house with supportive parents," she says of mom Helen, a therapist, and dad Stuart, a salesman, divorced more than 20 years ago.

"But you always have those demons, those conflicts in your life," and her "Brave" is bravura in saying it all, how "it takes a lot of courage" to carry on.

Carry the night she does, musically, with a stage alchemy that changes standards into gold. In a way, she is the Prius of performers, fueling a self-described "hybrid career," bouncing bountifully: "I embrace the different sides of the spectrum" that are her colorful career. "I've stopped trying to figure it out."

From Oz to osmosis: It's all about change, she says. And before she changes for her performance here, she's about to get in some private time with her husband: Menzel just shot a guest role in "Private Practice," the hit TV series starring Taye.

"I wonder if he'll watch my kissing scene," she teases of Taye. "Well, it's payback for all the times I've watched him kiss beautiful women on screen!"

But the "Kissing Jessica Stein" and "Just a Kiss" actress is kissed on the chic, always looking for different moves to make -- she earned a king's ransom of applause in a concert version of "Chess" at London's Royal Albert Hall and burned up the stage in a reading of "Nero," a Duncan Sheik/Steven Sater musical-in-the-making.

But maybe best of all was her "Don't Rain on My Parade," as she paraded her talents before Barbra Streisand, who was honored at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts last year.

"To sing for her," an everlasting idol and icon, "was a milestone in my career."And if anyone yelled out, "Hello, gawgeous" -- well, it's easy to see why there would have been confusion as to whom they meant as the beautiful mezzo-soprano who is Idina Kim Menzel has a voice all her own with a float of fame hers for the singing. 

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