NEW YORK — It doesn’t matter that Idina Menzel won a Tony and the hearts of fans for her portrayal of the misfit witch Elpheba in “Wicked.” Nor does it matter she beat out Hollywood stars to reprise her breakthrough role of Maureen Johnson in the movie version of “Rent,” out next month, or that she’s just been signed to Warner Brothers Records as a recording artist. The 34-year-old multitalented star still worries about getting work.
And, right now, about getting sick. There’s a torrential downpour outside and the lithe, jeans-clad Menzel is sipping tea in the actors’ lounge upstairs at the Public Theater, where she’s starring in “See What I Wanna See,” a musical in previews that opens officially on Oct. 30. “This could all go away,” says the soft-spoken Menzel, looking around. “That’s why I came back and did this smaller show.
“I just want to keep working and keep growing. I really wanted to work with [director] Michael John LaChiusa, and I thought it would be a really nice change from the Gershwin,” she says, referring to the theater where she packed in nearly 2,000 people a night to watch her belt out her numbers in “Wicked.” Now, she’s far from the spotlights of Broadway, performing a three-part production inspired by Japanese writer Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s short stories in front of 200 audience members.
So far, Menzel has eschewed the pull of Los Angeles. She lives in the Flatiron District here with her husband, Taye Diggs, whom she met on the original production of “Rent.” “We have our days,” she says. “We think we’re never going to work again.” That’s not proven true, however. Diggs will also reprise his role as Benny in “Rent” in the upcoming movie. “Working with him was great! It was fun to see each other in the costumes that we were wearing when we were flirting in the first place,” laughs Menzel.
As for the dangers of translating the musical to the big screen, Menzel says her fears about that, at least, have been allayed. “Chris Columbus [the director] is so passionate about it and by hiring us, and by having [the late] Jonathan Larson’s family around, he’s kept the integrity of the work. And with film, there’s a lot more you can do with a look or a glance that would have gotten lost before on stage. I had a lot of fun with my character.” Menzel’s enjoyment had to have been sweetened by the fact that the role is an opportunity she thought she wouldn’t get. “To have that experience the first time around was amazing, and to have it come back around is kind of unbelievable,” she says. “I never thought that when the movie got made we would be in it, just because it’s Hollywood. They don’t hire unknowns.”
This story first appeared in the October 18, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
She might not be what she calls “unknown” for long since her face is plastered on “Rent” posters in movie theaters across the country. But it’s the stage that still draws her.
“I do feel deep in my heart that I will always work in theater,” Menzel says. “I will be able to work on theatrical projects, and I’m very proud of that. It alleviates the fear — at least I know I won’t have to go back to singing at weddings!”