Reviewed by Laura Kate
My mother, much to her credit, raised me with a deep appreciation for classic movies. We spent many lazy Sunday afternoons watching old cinema classics, including many musicals. There is something about a good musical that just reels you in. The campy but heartfelt, over-the-top song and dance numbers that somehow all of the characters know, the usual boy meets girl (or in the case of Rent, girl meets girl) but something gets in the way of their romance plot, and the colorful sets, costumes and characters make an evening with a musical just fun. This is the world that Idina Menzel comes from and the world that she brought to the Mann Center for the Performing Arts.
Menzel is widely known and loved for her portrayal of Elphaba in the Broadway musical Wicked as well as her debut role in the insanely popular Rent and her role as Rachel’s mother on the Fox hit series, Glee. She has legions of devoted fans and she is known for her playful grace when interacting with them. More on that later.
The Mann Center is an outdoor venue with a covered pavilion that faces a huge cedar stage and overlooks the city of Philadelphia. It really is a great place to see a show when the temperature isn’t overbearing. This grand place was the setting for Menzel’s adaptation of her Barefoot at the Symphony show, which was fittingly called Barefoot at the Mann. Menzel was in fact barefoot throughout her performance, laughingly telling the audience that she thought about wearing heels and then decided, “F—k it!” which immediately created a camaraderie with the crowd. Looking absolutely stunning in a Grecian-style white belted dress, Menzel exuded Broadway confidence as she proceeded to own the stage.
Now, as much as my mother prepared me as a child to appreciate musicals and show tunes, this wasn’t a “must see” concert on my list and thus I had somewhat low expectations. However, from her opening rendition of “Over the Rainbow” through some of her personal favorite songs all the way to the songs that made her famous on Broadway, Menzel hit almost every note flawlessly with the powerhouse voice that propelled her to stardom. She was backed by the Philadelphia Orchestra and the evening’s performance was reminiscent of an old Rosemary Clooney stage show.
The most entertaining part of the show was during her performance of “Take Me or Leave Me” from Rent. During this number, she went out into the crowd and chose two random females to sing the duet with her. The both girls were talented, but the first girl really knocked it out of the park. Menzel then invited both up on stage for a grand finish and the crowd was on its feet for several minutes afterward.
The performance was almost impeccable. The orchestra wasn’t overpowering to the single voice, the lights were warm and inviting and Menzel was personable with the audience, adding anecdotes and reflections about the songs she chose for her show. There were a couple of missed notes toward the end, but even that is forgivable given the powerhouse performance she gave. The few minor warbles were completely overlooked by fans, all of whom left with big smiles. Many didn’t leave right away, and instead waited outside the press gate for an autograph, a hug or even just a glimpse of Menzel. This may not sound like much, but it took her quite a while to make her way back to the tour bus because she was tied up in a meet and greet immediately after the show. Fans at the barricade outside the press gate were told that she was very tired and would just be moving to the bus with no autographs or pictures taken, and everyone—to a man—was perfectly fine with that.
The Barefoot at the Mann show was like a little bit of old Broadway was back, for just a single evening in Philadelphia.
Set list (Mann Center for the Performing Arts, June 30, 2012)