Idina Menzel Talks “Barefoot at the Symphony,” “Poker Face,” and Her Secret Talents

The gorgeous and talented Idina Menzel stops by to chat about her PBS musical special “Idina Live: Barefoot at the Symphony,” busting out Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” with a full-on orchestra, returning to Broadway and the place she calls home, good ‘ol New York, New York.

Can you tell our viewers and readers how you decided to work with orchestras on tour—was there a specific incident that powered your decision to go for it?

I was invited to work with symphonies all over the country, and it was something that I was nervous about, but also really excited about because it’s very theatrical, very dramatic—And, you can get lost in that, but I wanted to maintain a sense of intimacy and I think we really did that. 

There are many great components to your PBS special “Idina Live: Barefoot at the Symphony”—what was your personal highlight from your performance?
There were many favorite parts for me. I have Marvin Hamlisch conducting and he’s a very special man—I feel very honored having him on stage with me. My husband Taye Diggs makes a guest appearance. There are a lot of spontaneous moments, which I think is the best thing about the special. And, there is a lot of New York humor, actually. There are moments that happen that night that never happened before, which is important for me as a theater person because I feel like the audience gets to see something that only that audience gets to see.

Why is it called “Barefoot at the Symphony?"
I’m a Long Island girl at heart and standing up there with a full-on orchestra in these amazing symphony halls can be daunting at times. One day, I had to not wear shoes because my back was killing me--I had been traveling with my two-year old. I went out there and I never sang better than that night. I just felt like myself and it keeps me grounded. It’s a good juxtaposition between this huge orchestra and where I really come from.

How have your audiences reacted to orchestral workings on Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” after seeing it on Glee?
Oh, the audience loves it! But it’s the symphonies I always worry are insulted, or that I’m insulting their intelligence, when I’m asking them to play “Poker Face” because they are all graduates of Juilliard. I think after we do it, they get the humor behind it and we all have a lot of fun with it.

Any other song highlights or funny moments that you really love?
I do “No Day but Today” from Rent and I love it because it’s how I got my start. It’s very New York and it sets the tone for what I believe and how I live my life in this business. The audience sings along with me and it’s a really beautiful moment.

What do you hope audiences and listeners take away from your CD and watching the PBS special?
I want them to feel like they get to know me. A lot of people, in this town especially, they probably know a girl with green makeup, and in this special, I get to sing but I also get to share a lot of who I am and my days back in long island growing up, Broadway moments and everything. I feel like they’ll really get to see the true me.

Can we look forward to seeing you back on Broadway?
I can’t wait to get back. I’m working on a couple things that I can’t talk about yet, but it will probably be an original musical, which takes longer to do, obviously. My husband and I are dying to get back to New York City, so the answer to that is, yes!

What are your favorite places, restaurants, secret spots in New York?
My favorite place is Blue Ribbon. If you are an actor or a theater person, you need late-night places with great food. And coming from L.A., everything is open late here. 

Do you have any secret talents?
I don’t know if this is a talent, but I can fake-sing, phonetically, any song with lyrics. Because I was a wedding singer back in the 80s, I would sing “Smooth Operator” a lot, and I didn’t know the real words—but, since nobody ever listens, it doesn’t really matter because no on ever notices. I do that ‘til this very day with all my Beyonce songs.

Catch the video above with a fun outtake of Idina singing "Smooth Operator" her way.

“Idina Live: Barefoot at the Symphony” airs March 6 on PBS. Also, look for the live CD and DVD with bonus footage. Idina will return to New York City and perform at Carnegie Hall on October 29.

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