Pittsburgh to welcome Idina Menzel on ‘Take Me or Leave Me’ tour
ConcertPerformance is on Aug. 10 at Benedum Center

Pittsburgh to welcome Idina Menzel on ‘Take Me or Leave Me’ tour

“I've always worn my heart on my sleeve, to be honest, and I'm going to continue to do so on this tour.' — Idina Menzel

Idina Menzel (Photo courtesy of the artist)
Idina Menzel (Photo courtesy of the artist)

There are a few reasons why Tony Award-winning actress Idina Menzel chose to call her new tour “Take Me or Leave Me.”

Of course, it’s a tribute to her character Maureen’s signature song in the Broadway musical “Rent,” Menzel’s first professional job, which helped propel the Jewish performer to fame.

But it’s more than that, she told the Chronicle.

“This tour is really about me allowing my vulnerability and my willingness to take risks and allow people to really see inside my soul,” she said. “It’s more about, you know, I’m going to put myself out there and I hope that you accept me.”

Menzel, a singer/actress/philanthropist also known for her star turn in Broadway’s “Wicked,” and for voicing the role of Elsa in Disney’s “Frozen” franchise, will bring her show to Pittsburgh’s Benedum Center on Aug. 10 at 8 p.m.

She recalled performing here just a couple weeks after the Oct. 27, 2018, antisemitic shooting at the Tree of Life building, which left 11 worshippers from three congregations dead and several other people seriously wounded. She tailored her show then to address the trauma, as she “knew it was on everyone’s mind,” she said.

Afterward, Menzel wrote a song about the attack, “A Tree of Life,” which is featured in the HBO documentary “A Tree of Life: The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting.” The song is about resilience and coexistence.

Menzel, who said she feels “a real connection to Pittsburgh,” is nothing if not authentic. In a 2015 performance at the Benedum, she enthusiastically engaged with her audience, coming off the stage to join in duets with four different fans for a rendition of “Take Me or Leave Me.”

She was so comfortable with her audience that she not only removed her gold high-heel shoes about halfway through the show, but even peeled off her false eyelashes because they were irritating her eyes. She passed them off to an eager fan who ran up to the stage with her hand out.

“I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve, to be honest, and I’m going to continue to do so on this tour,” Menzel said. “I sing music that chronicles the timeline of my life and my career and my experiences, and I talk about how those songs have informed who I am and what those experiences were like at the time, and what I learned from them.

“I’m also very in the moment,” she added. “So I think, for better or worse, I have a willingness for staying open and allowing for whatever’s on my mind to come out — in front of thousands of people — but I’ve always believed that the performances that have moved me in my life, by the artists that inspire me, are the ones that the people were willing to be open and authentic. That’s really the only way that you really can touch someone in your audience.”

Menzel’s recording career includes multiple cast albums and solo albums. This past fall, she released her dance project Drama Queen via BMG, showcasing her vocals through disco-infused beats and soaring anthems. She’s released two children’s picture books with her sister, Cara Mentzel, called “Loud Mouse” and “Proud Mouse,” via Disney Publishing Worldwide. Both books center around self-acceptance and being true to yourself.

The “Take Me or Leave Me” tour will include “a wide spectrum of music calling on many genres,” Menzel said, “because that’s my life, that’s my career. You know, I was a wedding singer when I was a teenager, into my college years, and I had to sing all kinds of music, everything from pop, rock, Motown, jazz. So it’s just sort of in me that I like to explore all styles. And then, because I’ve been in so many mediums, whether it be in theater or TV, film or just doing my concerts as myself, I have all different kinds of music that are associated with me. That’s kind of what I’ve learned to really embrace and have fun with.”

Some of her original songs will be included as well.

“I have the most devoted, supportive fans,” Menzel said. “They’re very sophisticated, and they’ve welcomed my creative choices for all these years. They’ve allowed me to explore different avenues and always go along with me. There have been some of my albums that sometimes I don’t do anything from, and then they complain to me that I haven’t revisited that music, so I’m actually making a point of going back into some of my old albums and making sure that I include them.”

Also included in the concert will be two songs from her new musical “Redwood” that’s coming to Broadway early next year, she said.

“I’m excited to introduce people to that story and that music and that character,” Menzel said.

The show, which she created with her friend, director Tina Landau — who is writing the book and the lyrics — has been her “passion project for over a decade.”

“It’s about a woman who is going through a turning point in her life, and she gets in her car in New York City and decides to just escape, and starts driving across the country, and doesn’t stop until she gets to the foot of the mystical, majestic redwoods,” Menzel said. “It’s something that I don’t think anyone’s seen before, and I really think people will relate to it.”
She clearly wants her fans to be happy — and to feel at home.

“No matter how big the venue,” Menzel said, “I like everyone to feel like they’re in my living room. That’s really important to me.” PJC

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at ttabachnick@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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