Relaxed, fun, charming, stunning – all words that can be used to describe Idina Menzel on her latest album, Barefoot at the Symphony.
The live album – recorded in Toronto during her symphony tour – features not just the songs Menzel sang, but also all the anecdotes she told during the show, which was also filmed for a television special.
I was lucky enough to see Menzel at the Royal Albert Hall on this tour, and loved every moment, so it’s great to be able to relive the concert experience again.
My two favourites on this album have to be No Day But Today from Rent, the musical that gave Menzel her big break on Broadway, and Asleep on the Wind, a gorgeous ballad on which Menzel’s vocals soar as much as the metaphorical birds in the song.
Also powerful is Menzel’s version of Love for Sale, which is mixed with Roxanne. Menzel conveys the pain of the women at the centre of both stories through her voice – there’s no need to see her to know what the characters are going through.
Similarly, feelings and character are conveyed well in Where or When – although this time the feelings are much more upbeat. This is a number Menzel didn’t do on her visit to London, and after hearing this recording I would have loved to have seen it done live. In Where or When you can feel the chemistry between Menzel and husband Taye Diggs as they sing. It’s a fun number, with plenty of teasing laughter and great vocals from both singers.
Fun also comes along in the opening track, Life of the Party, and Poker Face, which Menzel performed when she appeared on Glee. Her tongue in cheek narration during Poker Face, pointing out the absurdity of lyrics such as “cause I’m bluffing with my muffin/I’m not lying I’m just stunnin’ with my love glue gunnin'” adds a laugh out loud dimension to the number.
If it’s power you’re looking for, then look no further than Funny Girl/Don’t Rain on My Parade, where Menzel’s voice is strong enough to stop a herd of buffalo in their tracks without crossing into shouty territory.
Of course, no Menzel concert would be complete without her singing Defying Gravity and/or For Good from Wicked, the show that launched her into the stratosphere. Lucky for us, she performs both, with For Good done a capella, showing just how pure and heartfelt Menzel’s voice is.
Menzel is accompanied by the Kitchener Waterloo Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the legendary Marvin Hamlisch, one of only a few people to win an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony). While the orchestra is brilliant, the recording doesn’t quite capture their full sound, and it’s easy to forget Menzel is backed by them and not just a regular studio band.
One small niggle is that the album tries to recreate the live experience by including all the applause Menzel received during the show. Sometimes, this goes on a little too long, and I can’t help but wish it had been cut short so the music came round faster. Still, it’s a small complaint for such a brilliant album.
Broadway fans and Menzel fans will love Barefoot at the Symphony, but this album is also a good introduction to Menzel and her world for those who have not heard her before – you can hardly be failed to be impressed by her vocals even if you’re not a fan of her type of music.