Idina Menzel, Tony Award-winning actress, songwriter and singer and best known for her original roles as Elphaba, Wicked Witch of the West, in Wicked and as Maureen in Rent, was born May 30, 1971 as Idina Kim Mentzel. She was born on Long Island, New York into a Jewish family. Stuart Mentzel, her father, was a pajama salesman and Helene, her mother, a therapist.
Her and younger sister Cara grew up in Syosset, New York and changed her last name later to Menzel because it was constantly mispronounced. Her parents divorced when she was 15 years old. She began work as a bar mitzvah and wedding singer and continued this throughout her college years at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts where she earner her BFA degree in Drama.
In 1995 Menzel auditioned for and was cast in the rock musical Rent and worked together with friend actor Adam Pascal. It was her Broadway debut as well as her first theater job as a professional. Rent opened as an off-Broadway play on January 26, 1996 at the New York Theatre Workshop. Its’ popularity saw the play move to Broadway at the Nederlander Theatre. Menzel received a Tony nomination for her performance in the role of Maureen Johnson for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Her last performance in Rent was on July 1, 1997.
Following her success with Rent, Menzel made her foray into music, releasing her first solo album on Hollywood Record which was titled “Still I Can’t Be Still.” Menzel was the original Dorothy in Summer of ’42 which played at Connecticut’s Goodspeed Opera House, played Sheila in Hair at the New York City Center and also appeared on Broadway in Aida as Amneris. Menzel’s performance as Kate in the off-Broadway production of The Wild Party got her nominated for a Drama Desk Award. She also appeared in off-Broadway in The Vagina Monologues as well as in Rent before it moved to Broadway.
In 2003, Menzel starred on Broadway in Wicked along with fellow singer and actress Kristin Chenoweth. The Winnie Holzman and Shephen Schwartz musical was based on Gregory Maguire’s popular 1995 novel.
In 2004 Menzel received a Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for her performance as Elphaba in Wicked. On January 8, 2005, in the actress’ third to last performance, Menzel cracked a rib from falling through a trap door. She was unable to perform in the January 9 show due to her injury, but did perform that last song out of costume and received a standing ovation that lasted for five minutes. Shoshana Bean replaced Menzel as Elphaba.
Following her role in Wicked, Menzel worked in the off-Broadway musical See What I Wanna See at the Public Theater. She was nominated for Drama Desk and Drama League award for her various roles in the musical. On September, 2006, Menzel once again appeared as Elphaba at the Apollo Victoria Theater in London. Kerry Ellis replaced Menzel on December 30, 2006 as Elphaba.
Menzel played Florence in Chess for the 21st Anniversary concert held in London at Royal Albert Hall on May 12-13, 2008 along with Adam Pascal, Kerry Ellis and Josh Groban.
On July 11-13, 2008 Menzel performed the role of Poppea, Nero’s mistress is the musical Nero by Duncan Sheik and Steven Slater.
Menzel has also appeared in several films, including Kissing Jessica Stein, Just a Kiss, Water, Tollbooth, Enchanted, Ask the Dust, and Rent, where she along with another five of the original cast revived their stage roles.
Menzel has continued to perform and write original music and performed at Lilith Fair’s 1998 summer concert festival. She has done extensive touring and performs on a frequent basis in New York City. She produced her debut album for Hollywood Records in 1998, Still I Can’t Be Still. A single, “Minuet,” hit #48 on the Pop Tracks of Radio & Records in October 1998.
In 2004 Here, her second album, was released by Zel Records. Menzel has also been involved on several soundtracks, which include ones for Desperate Housewives, and the movie The Other Sister. She was on the Beowulf soundtrack in 2007 and sang “A Hero Comes Home,” the end credits song.
Ray Charles asked Menzel to sing a duet with him on a track for the album Genius & Friends. In 1998 the tracks were recorded but not produced. Having the album made was a dying wish of his, and it did happen posthumously.
On January 29, 2008 I Stand, Menzel’s third solo album was released. The tracks included “Brave,” the lead single, “I Stand,” and “Gorgeous.” I Stand debuted at #58 on the Billboard 200, which made it Menzel’s first solo album to hit the charts. There are actually five different versions of the album, including the original, a special limited edition, Borders edition, Barnes & Noble edition and i Tunes version. Menzel embarked on a tour for I Stand on April 1, 2008.
Menzel’s single “Hope” was released on November 11, 2008. It was made with Major League Baseball and the proceeds all go to Stand Up 2 Cancer. On November 27, 2008 she performed the song “I Stand” in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade from the M&M Candies float.
On January 11, 2003 Idina Menzel married Taye Diggs, an actor and former co-star the Broadway version of Rent. They had dated for 7 years prior to getting married. The couple have two cats, Coltrane and Ella, as well as a Yorkshire Terrier who is named Sammy Davis Jr. The couple announced in April 2009 that they were expecting a baby boy, whose due date is in September 2009.
All photos made available via creative commons licensing courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.