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Idina Menzel Biography

Home > Actresses > M > Menzel, Idina > Biography

Birth Name: Idina Menzel
Born: 05/30/1971
Birth Place: Syosset, New York, USA

Born in Syosset, NY on May 30, 1971, Idina Kim Mentzel was the eldest of two daughters born to Stuart Mentzel, a pajama salesman, and her therapist mother, Helene; as an adult, she dropped the "t" in her surname to reflect its correct pronunciation. Singing and musical theater were her passions and became her life's pursuit from an early age, cemented by viewing Barbra Streisand's performance in "A Star is Born" (1976). Her parents balked at allowing her to audition for Broadway, so she made do with school theater until she turned 15. After her parents had divorced, Menzel began venturing out to temples in the Long Island area to perform at weddings and bar mitzvahs. It was in these venues that she first displayed her powerful vocal talents, which would later become her calling card on stage.

Menzel paid her dues on the wedding circuit while studying drama at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. After graduation, she began exploring gigs at rock and pop clubs downtown, with musical theater largely on the back burner. That all changed in 1995 when Jonathan Larsen cast her in his rock opera, "Rent." As Maureen, a bisexual performance artist with a long history of infidelity, Menzel made her off-Broadway debut with the production in 1996, where it quickly became an audience favorite. The show soon moved to Broadway where it blossomed into a genuine theatrical sensation on a global scale. "Rent" not only earned Menzel a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actress, but also introduced her to actor Taye Diggs, another member of the original cast, who became her husband in 2003.

Menzel attempted to parlay her theatrical success into a recording career, but her self-produced debut, Still I Can't Be Still (1998), was a dismal failure. In its wake, she struggled to find her footing in the entertainment industry, but discovered it difficult to land substantive work outside of the theaters. Making matters more challenging was the meteoric rise of Diggs' acting career in films and on television. Menzel soon returned to the stage in 2000 for "The Wild Party," which earned her a Drama Desk Award nomination. More hits soon followed, including "Summer of '42" (2000), the 2001 New York City Center Encores production of "Hair," and the original off-Broadway run of "The Vagina Monologues" (2002). The following year, she landed the role that would define her Broadway persona - that of Elphaba in "Wicked" (2003).

The musical, based loosely on the novel by Gregory Maguire, which in turn drew inspiration from L. Frank Baum's Oz stories, was as big a cultural phenomenon as "Rent," with Menzel drawing much of the critical affection as the tormented half-human daughter of the Wizard of Oz, whose green skin makes her a defiant outcast from the magical kingdom and misrepresented as Baum's Wicked Witch of the West. Menzel's show-stopping performance not only earned her numerous honors, including a Tony for Leading Actress in a Musical, but a devoted fan base among teenage girls, who felt a kinship with her character. Broadway regulars also rallied behind her when she fell through a stage trap door on her third-to-last performance in 2005; despite suffering a cracked rib, she returned the following day to perform her final number in the show.

After the success of "Wicked," Menzel released her second album, Here, in 2004, and appeared in a handful of independent films, including "The Tollbooth" (2004). She reunited with most of her original Broadway castmates for the film version of "Rent" (2005), which earned her nominations from several significant film critic societies. That same year, she starred in "See What I Wanna See," an off-Broadway musical based on short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa that also inspired the film "Rashomon" (1951). The production, penned by "Wild Party" composer and lyricist Michael John LaChiusa, brought her Drama Desk and Drama League award nominations. She then returned to "Rent" for its West End production in London at the end of 2006. During that period, she topped the list of highest paid female performers on the London stage by earning $30,000 per week. She also turned up in the Disney-produced smash "Enchanted" as the girlfriend of romantic lead Patrick Dempsey; ironically, the film, which was a musical, did not require her to sing.

In 2008, Menzel landed her first hit record with I Stand; the album reached No. 54 on the Billboard Top 200, and the single "Brave" went to No. 19 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Menzel toured behind the album, which included a performance in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2008. She also appeared in the 21st Anniversary concert of Tim Rice's "Chess" at the Royal Albert Hall that year, and participated in a reading of Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik's "Nero" in New York. Menzel expressed interest in performing on the hit TV series "Glee" as the biological mother to actress Lea Michele's character; fans of the program also lobbied for an appearance, noting the uncanny resemble between the two performers. In 2010, Menzel joined the show in a recurring role as the larger-than-life coach of Vocal Adrenaline, the staunch rivals to the series' glee club, New Directions. Meanwhile, her role on "Glee" ended in 2011, though she continued performing live, culminating in "Idina Menzel Live: Barefoot at the Symphony" (PBS, 2012). On the big screen, she voiced The Snow Queen in the Disney animated feature "Frozen" (2013). Her character's big number from that film, "Let It Go," became a surprise pop hit for Menzel, and also won the Best Original Song Oscar for its composers, Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. On the night of her Oscar performance, Menzel accidentally became an internet meme when presenter John Travolta flubbed her name in his introduction, announcing the singer as "Adele Dazeem." Menzel graciously laughed off the short-lived social media uproar that followed.