Idina Menzel lets it glow at Red Rocks

Photos of  the Idina Menzel concert Tuesday at Red Rocks. To download any photo at a variety of sizes, click “View original Flickr image.” Photos by John Moore for the DCPA’s NewsCenter.

Broadway superstar Idina Menzel made the powerful personal in a playful set at Red Rocks that appealed to everyone from theatre geeks to Frozen fanatics; from Rentheads to Radioheaders.

Menzel sang her five-octave heart out before a nearly full house on Tuesday at one of the world’s most iconic amphitheaters. It was a wide-ranging and all-embracing crowd filled with Elsas, Elphabas and even Elsies – that infamous Diet Coke-drinking cow from Rent.

Menzel made a grand recorded entrance during which she reached out and identified with the 15-year-old in everyone in the audience: “As a kid, I was afraid to shine,” she told them.

Well, look at her shine now.

Playing with her traveling rock band of five, backed by a mini-orchestra of 10 local orchestral musicians adding strings and horns, Menzel was at once both larger than life and charmingly intimate during a full evening that spanned the color palate: Standing before the red rocks in a black, strapless gown wrapped by a bronze pullaway skirt, Menzel was alternately green (Wicked) and charmingly blue (“Just cover the little ones’ ears every once in a while,” she suggested.)

Her set was marked by homages to her many female icons, including Barbra Streisand, Joni Mitchell and Ethel Merman. The mix also included meaningful nods to pop stars ranging from Cole Porter to Sting to Radiohead. There were several songs from the Broadway blockbuster Wicked, including a poignant version of “For Good” sung a capella.

While telling the charming story of falling in love with a college professor at NYU who was gay (“How do college freshman not know this?” she joked), her tone turned doleful when the teacher challenged her to more seriously consider the plight of the prostitute protagonist of Porter’s classic lament “Love for Sale.” Fully plumbing the depths of despair any woman must endure to sell her body for money, Menzel delivered a meaningful mash-up that bled into Sting’s “Roxanne.”

She then honored indie faves Radiohead by singing “Special” – and she even cleaned-up the band’s grammar by correctly singing “I wish I were special. She repeatedly joked about the fashion consequences of performing on an outdoor stage where her dress took on a life of its own in the blustery August wind.

Idina Menzel at Red Rocks

The concert was filled with big moments and Menzel’s signature, off-the-cuff banter. Clearly many concertgoers know what was coming when she started to invite random audience members to join her onstage for the estimable Rent duet “Take Me Or Leave Me.” Signs instantly popped up from all over the amphitheater, like the one that said, “Came from Chicago. Let’s do a duet!”

The lucky chosen few fully seized their moments to shine, to Menzel’s great delight. One young woman named Cassie confidently grabbed the mic from Menzel and wailed as if she were the evening’s headliner.

Toying with her image as both a diva and a kid from the streets of Long Island, Menzel eventually threw off her fabulous heels in favor of oversized yellow slippers.

One of the most poignant moments of the night was her tribute to Rent composer Jonathan Larson, who died the night before the musical’s New York opening. On this tour, she always sings No Day But Today, a song about embracing life, as a tribute to Larson.  “This song reminds me how lucky I am to be sitting here in this legendary place, with all of you amazing people, where I am getting to do the one thing I have wanted to do my whole life, which is to sing,” she said.

Menzel talked reverently about her recent turn in the new Broadway musical If/Then, which will launch its first national tour in Denver this October – with Menzel returning to her starring role. It’s the story of a woman starting her life over in New York City with infinite possibilities. The musical follows vastly different ways her life might turn out  depending on the choices she makes.

Idina Menzel fans at Red Rocks. Photo by John Moore. “Shows come into your life when need to learn something about your life that they have to teach you,” Menzel told the crowd. “If/Then put its arms around me and taught me about choices.”

Menzel equated her If/Then character’s story in part to her own. While honoring the rocket ship her career has been on since the release of the animated film Frozen, she also acknowledged personal challenges she has faced that have included starting over as a single mother. “This show has taught me that every day you have the opportunity and the power to wake up and start your life over again,” she said.

She then sang If/Then’s anthem to second chances, called “Always Starting Over.” “What the gods have to give I’ll take, and I’ll live, and be bold,” she sang to a standing ovation, all the more remarkable considering it is such a new song.

The adoring crowd, which included her mother, sister and other family members who live in nearby Louisville, was twice as big as when Menzel last appeared at Red Rocks four years ago – a nod, no doubt in part, to her part in Frozen.

She let it all go for Let It Go, bringing dozens of tots onstage to sit and sing with her. She playfully acknowledged the very real probability that “your parents are sick of this song, aren’t they?” And yet the moment felt very much as if all of us in attendance were sitting in the zeitgeist of a pop-culture phenomenon. Tossing in a quick, funny sample of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give It Away Girl,” Menzel ended the song in bare feet, dancing up and down like a kid from Glee at a midnight pajama party.

But for her very last song, Menzel chose a very soulful interpretation of the iconic Broadway standard Tomorrow, turning one of her favorite childhood songs from a gee-whiz piece of cheese into an anthemic call-to-action.

Lingering in the love from an audience that didn’t want to leave despite the late hour, Menzel stood silently on the stage as a living testament to what is possible for every young person in the audience to see.

Top Five Idina Menzel Quotes at Red Rocks:

  • “This wind is like a built-in fan for my hair.”
  • On the altitude: Menzel: How does any team ever come here and win a game? Person in crowd: “They don’t!”
  • On the altitude: “Oh, I’m a little panty!”
  • On Rent composer Jonathan Larson: “Thank you for giving me my life.”
  • On Red Rocks: “When you are here, you really feel like you are kind of a big deal.”

     If/Then ticket information:

    • Oct. 13-25 in the Buell Theatre
    • Tickets are currently available to purchasers of season subscriptions, which can be had by calling 303-893-4100 or visiting
    • Single tickets will go on-sale to the public at 10 a.m. Friday. Aug. 14. Buy and print online at; charge by phone at 303-893-4100 (Groups of 10 or more should call 303-446-4829); o purchase in person at the Denver Center Ticket Office, located at the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex lobby.
    • Please be advised that the DCPA’s web site at is the ONLY authorized online ticket provider for If/Then performances in Denver.

    Our previous NewsCenter coverage of Idina Menzel:

    Idina Menzel at Red Rocks

    DCPA staffers were on hand at Red Rocks to greet fans interested in her upcoming appearance of “If/Then” at the Buell Theatre this October. Photo by John Moore

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