Tony Award-winning actor, singer, and songwriter Idina Menzel originated the role of Maureen Johnson in the Broadway and film versions of “Rent,” kicking off a celebrated career and solidifying her place as an LGBTQ icon.
She spoke to Jaison Gardner and Kaila Story, hosts of WFPL’s Strange Fruit podcast, in anticipation of her appearance in Louisville next month. Listen to their conversation in the player above.
On the legacy of “Rent”:
“I have such a pride about being a part of ‘Rent,’ and watching the young people that were involved and that were fans of the show evolve. And people with their own inner struggles with their own sexual orientation, and the connection I made with these young people and watching them be able to blossom, and feel recognized, and feel seen in society was just something I never could have expected. It gave voice to characters and to people that never had that voice before.”
On her love letter to the LGBT community:
“I’ve always just felt like they’ve taught me something about the world, and life, and about freedom, and about the courage to take that thing in yourself that might be a little bit different and throw it out there in the world, and celebrate it. My friends who are part of that community have always taught me that. So I’m just eternally grateful to them. It’s not like I was doing them a favor, they’ve always done me a favor. They’ve been the ones that have spoken honestly and sincerely and authentically to me, and challenged me, and made me really be honest with myself. I just feel like it’s a reciprocal thing that I need to give back in gratitude for what they’ve taught me.”
On what makes her proud:
“I’m most proud of the connections that all my projects and characters have had with young audiences, because I’ve gotten to grow up with a lot of these characters and these fans through the decades. I feel like this common theme of self-empowerment and finding your voice, and not hiding that thing that makes you so special, sort of permeates all of the characters. And not only is it connecting with young people but it’s always sort of taught me about how I needed to be. If you’re made that kind of role model, you have to practice what you preach. So on those days where I don’t want to get out of bed, I have to remember that this is what I’m saying out there in the world. So it helps me in my own personal life. It’s not just about speaking to other people.”
On “Adele Dazeem”:
“It was the happiest mistake that could have ever happened to me. I had done all of this meditation to control my nerves so I could do a great job on the show. I wore these really funny, ugly shoes under my dress that were really strong, that weren’t spike heels, so that I could stand and have a foundation. And I also told myself I was going to sing to my little boy and just keep it right there. And then that thing happened with my name. And it totally threw me and I felt sorry for myself for about five seconds. And then I was like, ‘Get this on track — the orchestra’s going without you!’ And then I had to do my thing. And what was so wonderful about it was, the people who knew me beforehand were so outraged at it that they sent me so much love, and then all the people that didn’t know me, I got to make new friends.”