Idina Menzel heats up pop charts

Associated Press photo
Associated Press photo

NEW YORK (AP) – Tony-winning Idina Menzel – or Adele Dazeem if you’re John Travolta – is enjoying massive success with “Let It Go” from the animated film “Frozen,” but the entertainer is still perplexed that she’s finally triumphing on the pop charts with a show tune-esque track.

“I’ve had a lot of self-introspection about this. This business is so hard, especially the music business, and I’ve tried so hard to crossover, to convince people just because I was in a Broadway show I didn’t have the street cred to be a rock or a pop singer,” she said in a recent interview. “And then the one time I have it, it’s the arrangement from the Disney movie.”

“I’m singing at the Oscars – I’ve never sang at the Grammys,” Menzel added, laughing.

Menzel’s musical moment grew even stronger when “Let It Go” won best original song at Sunday’s Academy Awards (the Oscar went to the songwriters and producers, Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez). The song has sold close to 1.5 million tracks and is a Top 20 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The “Frozen” album, a platinum success, is the soundtrack to spend the most time at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart with five weeks and counting; it recently beat the record set by the “Titantic” soundtrack, which featured Celine Dion’s epic, Oscar-winning “My Heart Will Go On.”

“I’ve had ups and downs … and I’m aware of when something’s happening and has an energy of its own,” said Menzel, who voices the lead character Elsa in the film, which won the best animated feature Oscar. “I’m aware enough to know of something special and to try and be in the moment.”

Menzel is having more than a moment in music though, thanks to Travolta, who uttered “Adele Dazeem” at the Oscars instead the singer’s name. He has since apologized.

But Slate magazine created the ultrapopular “Travoltified” tool, where you can put in your name and see what Travolta would call you, and it has been dominating on Facebook and Twitter this week (side note: Travolta would call himself “Jan Thozomas.”)

But after that fades, Menzel still has “Let It Go,” which is having a pop culture moment because of the thousands of videos posted of young girls and boys – and some adults – singing covers of the song. Cutely, Menzel took her younger sister, a second grade teacher, to the Oscars as her date (“Frozen” is about two sisters who are best friends, but have to keep distance because of Elsa’s uncontrollable powers).

Menzel’s song has even eclipsed Demi Lovato’s version of “Let It Go” – technically the “single version.” Disney Music Group president Ken Bunt said he’s not surprised Menzel’s song has become more successful commercially, and adds that the soundtrack is a winner because the film plays like a cartoon musical.

“The songs are part of the storytelling. They’re helping to tell the story of the film and I think that’s different then what we’ve seen in the last 15-plus years in animated movies,” Bunt said.

Menzel, who has released three albums, said some members of her team want her to capitalize on her recent pop star fame: “I’d like to, but also, that’s the trap.”

“Like, ‘I better get in there and oh, make an album now. I have some success and attention,’” she recalled.

The 42-year-old does plan to record more music, but right now she’s focused on “If/Then,” the new Broadway musical she stars in. She will play the role of Elizabeth, a women returning to New York City to rebuild her life after a divorce, and she’s been rehearsing for weeks at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where she has nicely decorated room – or mini apartment – set up to help make her comfortable since the show begins previews Wednesday and officially opens March 30.

“We’re hoping the show runs,” Menzel says, knocking on the coffee table for good luck.

A few days before the Oscars, Menzel was doing triple duty: She was readying her performance that would put her in front of 43 million faces; she was gearing up for the new musical; and the third – and leading – priority was motherhood. This particular day, she kept her son Walker from school and cancelled her nail appointment to “play dinosaurs” with her 4-year-old.

“We keep missing each other,” she explained.

Menzel said she usually learns a thing or two from the characters she portrays – whether it was her breakthrough as Maureen Johnson in “Rent” or Elphaba in “Wicked,” which won her a Tony in 2004. She has also starred on Fox’s “Glee,” playing the mother of Lea Michele’s character.

Her latest role as Elizabeth – who is being pulled in two directions in “If/Then” – may seem parallel to Menzel’s personal life, since she and actor Taye Diggs announced they were separating after 10 years of marriage last year.

“I’ve been lucky to have roles that teach me about myself at a time when I need to hear it – so I am learning while I’m in the role creating and rehearsing. Then I find a way in my own process to be able to leave it at the door and move on,” she said. “But I also find a way to integrate it into what I need to do as a human being to evolve and become a better person. This particular show … it’s about a woman starting over and not trying to control every outcome and the choices we make as opposed to fate and what’s destined and what isn’t.”

Menzel even says she’s been able to relate to her young character in “Frozen”: “I always say, when I was younger I was more fierce than I am now. I wouldn’t have taken no for an answer. It’s the older you get, and even more successful, that you start to doubt yourself.”

But Menzel isn’t living in regrets – and she even has useful advice for young performers, and her younger self.

“You just have to keep doing what you love and try not to worry about following the rules,” she said. “And it may not work out, but if you’re really good at some point the stars align and then things happens.”

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