THE SHOW “Undercover Boss: Celebrity Edition”
WHEN | WHERE Friday at 8 p.m. on CBS/2
WHAT IT’S ABOUT Big names in entertainment and athletics take over for CEOs in “Undercover Boss: Celebrity Edition,” donning elaborate disguises to seek undiscovered up-and-comers. Last week it was Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas; this week, Syosset’s Idina Menzel, perhaps best known for singing “Let It Go” in the film “Frozen” and soon to appear Off-Broadway in “Skintight,” hides under a ratty wig and thick glasses to give several Los Angeles performers the shock of their lives.
MY SAY Things I never thought I’d see: Idina Menzel in a chicken suit. Posing as Helen Gold, a receptionist from Colorado who wants to break into the biz, she uses a never-gonna-happen documentary as her cover. First stop is a real estate office, where regional theater performer Amanda is about to deliver a singing telegram to a guy who had just closed a million-dollar deal. The Tony and Grammy winner happily helps compose the song, though she does cast a regretful eye on that chicken suit: “This is one of the most humiliating moments of my life.”
Then it’s off to a wedding, where she helps the band lug in the equipment — “I think I got a hernia” — before attempting to build a tower of champagne glasses, with disastrous results. “She went from adorable mess to kind of just a hot mess,” complains wedding singer Beda, who still lets Menzel perform “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” for the crowd. “I’m sorry, Whitney Houston, are you rolling over in your grave?” asks Menzel, clearly trying to keep her vocal chops under wraps. “I’m not sure I know how to not sing like myself.”
Most moving is her meetup with Jennifer, a young woman who, despite being in a wheelchair because of a rare muscular condition, had done 13 years in “Aladdin” at Disneyland (“the first performer in a wheelchair to perform on any Disney stage”). They visit the hospital that treated Jennifer as a child, where her rendition of “A Part of Your World” from “The Little Mermaid” has “Helen” near tears. Menzel gets a turn here too, but no spoiling this particular development (just have tissues ready).
It’s all very touching, but some things don’t quite ring true. The makeup job doesn’t truly disguise Menzel — if they’d try to pull this off in New York she’d surely have been busted. And what’s with the wedding band letting her perform in that frumpy print dress? My first question would have been, “Don’t you have something to change into?”
It doesn’t matter. This version doesn’t stray from the CBS show’s established format, and when Menzel finally reveals her identity you have to root for all three performers (and not think about the competitive world they want to be part of). Amanda gets a job on a cruise ship and a meeting with Menzel’s casting agent, Beda a year’s lease on a New York apartment and a gig with a wedding band. Jennifer, the one with the most star potential in my book, is awarded a consultation with the “Frozen” songwriters and an invitation to sing a duet with Menzel at a Broadway Cares benefit.
BOTTOM LINE If you’re a sucker for this sort of thing (guilty!), it’s a fine way to spend an hour. Menzel was glowing by the end: “They have changed me and enlightened me and inspired me.” The best moment, though, was when Beda connected the dots. “Oh, my God,” she moaned. “I totally said she needed voice lessons.”