This year’s Adelaide Cabaret Festival came to a blockbuster conclusion on Saturday night with Broadway star Idina Menzel performing her first Australian show to a rapturous reception from the Festival Theatre crowd.
Fans of her work in the musicals Rent and Wicked (in which she played the green-skinned witch Elphaba) and followers of the television series Glee (in which she has a recurring role) might have driven the crowd’s initial enthusiasm, but by the end we were all fans.
The New York diva started a little slowly – struggling with a dry throat and sucking on lozenges – but she kept the audience engaged with her drily amusing and surprisingly salty patter.
A snippet of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, performed from off-stage, segued into “The Wizard and I”, from Wicked, then she really blew off the cobwebs by belting out “Don’t Rain on My Parade” (pausing in the middle to engage with the fan-boys in the front row, then suddenly returning to the song and hitting the note perfectly).
Menzel has a classic Broadway voice – full of power and emotion over a huge range – and a down-to-earth on-stage presence (she is famous for performing barefoot, and did so on Saturday night). The heart of the performance, though, came with a gentle bracket from the pen of her late friend Marvin Hamlisch. “At the Ballet” and “What I Did for Love”, both from A Chorus Line, were classic examples of musical theatricality – delivered with poignancy and drama, and brought home via the agency of Menzel’s extraordinary pipes.
The Adelaide Art Orchestra, conducted by Vanessa Scammell, provided lush backing throughout.
The highlight for this reviewer was Menzel’s own “God Save My Soul”, a painful, confessional, searing number which ended with her staring fiercely into the mid-distance. Theatrical, sure, but performed with utter authenticity.
There was also lots of fun, with Menzel – almost suspiciously – finding three great voices in the audience to join her on “Take Me or Leave Me”, from Rent. The three clearly left the theatre floating on air.
When it inevitably came, the song she has made her own, “Defying Gravity”, from Wicked, had the crowd on their feet.
The final encore, a performance of “Somewhere”, from West Side Story, again showed that the best singers don’t only belt it out – they tell a story.
More Adelaide Cabaret Festival reviews
Review: Sunny Leunig – A Guide to Unhappiness
Review: Hans – Like a German
Review: Puta Madre Brothers
Review: Compositions – A Musical Close-Up
Review: Class of Cabaret
Review: Sugartits – so wrong yet so right
Review: Meow Meow paces and purrs
Review: The cabaret charisma of Capsis
Review: Surrender to the Strangeness of Rramp
Review: Cassandra Wilson
Review: Chaplin: A Life in Concert
Review: Tom Burlinson’s salute to swing
Review: Mojo Juju
Review: Molly Ringwald
Review: Variety Gala
Review: Shane Warne the Musical
Your support will help us continue the important work of InReview in publishing free professional journalism that celebrates, interrogates and amplifies arts and culture in South Australia.Donate Here