Call it life imitating art -- or is it the other way round? -- but there are some unexpected similarities between the lives of Tony Award-winner Idina Menzel and Elizabeth, her character in the new musical "If/Then," which opens tonight at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
The Syosset High School grad -- star of "Rent," "Wicked" and the animated film "Frozen" (where she made the ballad "Let It Go" an Oscar-winning hit) -- returns to Broadway in this new work from Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (the Pulitzer Prize-winning creators of "Next to Normal").
The show follows Elizabeth rebooting her life after a divorce and traveling down two parallel life paths. Menzel herself recently separated from her husband (actor Taye Diggs). And she knows a thing or two about alter egos, since John Travolta flubbed her name on the Oscars telecast, introducing her as "Adele Dazeem," which instigated a flurry of Internet activity. (Dazeem quickly had her own Twitter feed -- and 20,000 followers.)
Menzel, 42, chatted with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio before a recent rehearsal.
What's it like starring in your third original Broadway musical?
I'm sooo tired, Joe. My son is in California with his dad today, so I got to sleep in. I didn't set the alarm, thinking, "Oh, I'll wake up at eight like usual." I just slept and slept and slept. . . .
It's like a major athletic event, rehearsing all day, performing at night. How do you pace yourself -- and do you know something now you didn't know back in the days of "Rent" or "Wicked"?
What I know now is that I'm a mom of a 4-year-old. Someone more important than myself. That puts priorities in order. If I don't get a full night's sleep and don't hit the high note then . . . so be it. There's more to life than being perfect. Sometimes, when I'm only at 75 percent, I find other ways to express myself. By backing off. . . . I learn new things about the character.
I don't mean to push you into uncomfortable territory, but it's hard to ignore -- your character being divorced, starting over . . . and here you are suddenly doing this show under similar circumstances. Does that make you see your character in a whole new light?
Well . . . You always find truth in your life inside the work you're doing. Sometimes, the more on the nose it is, the more you need to use your imagination . . . or it'll be too exhausting. There are glimpses of things for me that I can't ignore here. Then, there are other times when the story . . . is about being married to a soldier and him going away -- things that have nothing to do with my life.
That must be kind of refreshing.
Yeah. But I will say that every project always teaches me something I need to learn. "Wicked" and "Frozen" are about embracing a power in myself and not being afraid to let it shine through. This . . . is more about how every day is a new day to start over -- and not to regret anything in the past. Because it's all part of the story of whom you become.
Speaking of the past -- do you get back to Long Island much?
I don't -- my family doesn't live there anymore. But I've been back to do shows, like at the Tilles Center. Actually, C.W. Post gave me an honorary doctorate. It was great . . . but I can't say it without laughing.
So you're DOCTOR Menzel.
Exactly. I have a -- what's the word I want to use? -- a complicated relationship with Long Island. When I went to NYU, I was excited to get into the city and be in a place where everyone was so different. You know? On Long Island, as kids, we tend to all want to fit in. There's a lot of money where I grew up . . . and my family didn't have a lot of money. So my perspective was . . . off. And yet the education I got was fabulous. And I'm still close with many of my teachers. So it's . . . complicated.
Last question -- what's Adele Dazeem really like?
I've no idea. I know she's had a lot more publicity than I've had. It's a happy mistake. Uh ... um ... I don't know what to say about it. I mean, it helped introduce a lot of people to this little theater person and what she does. So that's cool.
It also shows how many people you've connected with through your singing.
That's true. Thank you for saying that. I should look at it that way.
The way they came to your defense. "Don't mess with our gal."
Yeah, they're very protective, you're right. You know, I'm gonna say that from now on, because it is the truth.