Review: Idina Menzel with the ISO 

4 stars

Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Hilbert Circle Theatre, March 2.

The orchestra opened with a vamp and within a few bars, unpretentiously, IdinaMenzel appeared, simply engaging in a svelte purple Grecian draped gown, barefoot, her long hair parted down the middle and freely flowing. The SRO audience went wild. She acknowledged us, the orchestra, and Matthew Kraemer, Richmond-native/Butler music graduate making his ISO debut as ISO guest conductor-- and literally floated to the microphone to deliver the Jackson 5 favorite "Life of the Party."

Thus setting the tone, Menzel shared almost two hours [no intermission] of seamless, natural chatting connecting us to biographical moments with 16 songs meticulously arranged by Rob Mounsey for a symphony and combo. Her melodious voice and storytelling approach marries music with lyrics for character development. She surrounds a portrayal with enough time for us to absorb personality and situation, which she attributes to a sensitive director who showed her how to imagine a live person in a real situation.

Her delivery of Cole Porter's "Love For Sale" [1930 musical The New Yorkers] alongside "Roxanne" [The Police] was lush with layers of emotion. She's superb as a balladeer, painting landscapes as with Barbra Streisand's standards, "Funny Girl" and "Don't Rain on My Parade;" Jimmy Webb's "Asleep on the Wind;" Harburg and Lane's "Look to the Rainbow;" and her own "Gorgeous [with Bassel]. Was it a comedy club routine to forget the lyrics to Lady Ga-Ga's "Poker Face"? The audience loved it and joined in the chorus. "Walker" and "Smoochy" are her new songs inspired by her now 18-month old son, Walker.

From Rent she gave us "No Day But Today;" from Wicked we were gifted with "I'm Not That Girl," "Defying Gravity" and a moving a cappella, no amplification portrayal of "For Good." That's gutsier than flying.

But what completely endeared Menzel was her recognition of the pre-show lobby concert by the WZPL-FM 99.5 Smiley Morning Show Glee Club. "Are you in the audience?" she asked. The house lights went up, three of the 15-member group stood up. "Come on down." Dennis Gill, Jordan Rattenbury and Stephanie DeWeese delivered a spirited "Seasons of Love" with Menzel joining in but deferring the solo to DeWeese.

Menzel closed the program with an adult-nuanced version of "Tomorrow," for her mother, who nixed her childhood desire to audition for Annie. "She wanted me to have a normal childhood." The audience roared.

More on the Smiley Glee Club

The Smiley Morning Show Glee Club is a grass-roots professional choir made up entirely of listeners of The Smiley Morning Radio Show on 99.5 WZPL-FM. After being inspired by Fox's TV show Glee, The Smiley Morning Show held auditions via youtube and live on the show through October 2010 to find their own talent. After receiving more than 50 auditions, a panel of music and dancing experts selected the final group of 15 who would become The Smiley Morning Show Glee Club. The group will perform at shows around Indianapolis and will focus on pop music. The choir is directed by Stephanie DeWeese, choreographed by Adrienne Pfaffenberger and produced by Will Pfaffenberger.

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Rita Kohn

Rita Kohn

Rita Kohn has been covering craft beer and the arts for NUVO for two decades. She’s the author of True Brew: A Guide to Craft Beer in Indiana.

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