"It's hard to absorb and to allow all that attention and accolades for 'Rent' because the rest of the country doesn't know who we are. Once I walk out of the door of 'Rent' and I'm on the subway, it doesn't matter. It's an exaggerated sense of fame." Idina Menzel
Tony winning actress Idina Menzel garnered rave reviews for her performance as the vivacious, outspoken performance artist Maureen Johnson in the popular Broadway rock opera “Rent,” a role she would reprise in its film adaptation that was directed by Chris Columbus in 2005. She also starred in such popular productions as “Wicked” (received a Tony nomination for the role of Elphaba), “The Wild Party,” “Hair,” “The Vagina Monologues,” and “Aida.”
On the big screen, Menzel could be seen in the films "Kissing Jessica Stein" (2001), "Just a Kiss" (2002), "The Tollbooth" (2004), "Water" (2004), "Ask the Dust" (2006), and "Enchanted" (2007). She has also guest starred in the TV series "Hercules" (voice), "Grounded for Life," "Rescue Me," "Kevin Hill," and "Private Practice."
Menzel is also a solo artist and has released three albums, “Still I Can't Be Still” (1998), “Here” (2004), and "I Stand" (2008). She had her song "Follow If You Lead" featured in the movie “The Other Sister” (1999) and sang a song titled "A Hero Comes Home" during the end credits of Robert Zemeckis' fantasy film "Beowulf" (2007). She also sang the duet "I Will Be There" with the late Ray Charles on the album "Genius and Friends." which was released on September 20, 2005.
“The music business is the hardest and most cutthroat of all, so I'm just trying to enjoy the process and looking forward to working with some of the best song writers and producers.” Idina Menzel
More personally, this 5' 4" talented actress/singer has been married to her “Rent” costar, actor Taye Diggs, since January 2003. They will welcome their first baby in late 2009.
Childhood and Family:
Born in Syosset, New York, on May 30, 1971, Idina Kim Mentzel, nicknamed Dee, was raised in New York and New Jersey. She was named after her great grandmother Ida, and her name is Hebrew for "gentle." Her parents, Stuart, a pajama salesman, and Helene Mentzel, a therapist, divorced when she was 15 years old. Idina has one sister named Cara.
After graduating from Syosset High School, Idina studied drama at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She graduated in 1993 with a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree in Drama.
During this time, Idina worked as a wedding and bar mitzvah singer. She recalled, “Before I was in 'Rent,' I was a wedding singer. When I was 15 or 16 years old, I lied about my age and I'd go out and I'd front bands all around the tri-state area of New York. So I was singing everything from Motown to jazz and Bossanova. I had a versatility about myself and that made me really wanna write my own music. Especially after having sung all the Aretha and Chaka Khan songs; I just got totally enveloped in that and while going to NYU, I would play with rock bands in Greenwich Village.”
While starring in the original Broadway production of “Rent” (1996), Idina met costar Taye Diggs (born Scott L. Diggs; January 2, 1971). The pair, who would costar again in “The Wild Party” (2000; off-Broadway) and “Wicked” (2005; Broadway), were married on January 11, 2003, in Jamaica after 7 years of dating.
Idina and Diggs have a Yorkshire Terrier named Sammy Davis Jr. and two cats named Ella and Coltrane, whom they call their "Jazz Cats" since they were named after famous performers. About her pets, Idina once said, “I'm like a proud mother and cannot choose between my children. I will say the cats are not happy about the dog taking over the apartment and I spent all of last night cleaning up dog poop on the bathroom floor. Apparently he ate something weird in the park.”
In late March 2009, Digg's rep stated that the couple is expecting their first baby.
Wicked Witch of the West
“I feel like I was born to do this. I started working professionally as soon as I could, doing weddings and things like that in high school while everyone else was having keg parties. I just felt destined to do it and really committed and driven. It was something that just felt right all my life.” Idina Menzel
Singing by age five, Idina Menzel became the lead singer of a wedding band at 15 years old and started performing in clubs in Long Island and Westchester when she was in high school. Meanwhile, in the 5th grade, Menzel also acted in her school's productions of "The Wizard of Oz" (played Dorothy) and “The Pirates of Penzance.”
“I do feel deep in my heart that I will always work in theatre. I will be able to work on theatrical projects and I'm very proud of that.” Idina Menzel
After receiving a BFA degree in Drama from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, Menzel made her stage debut as Maureen Johnson, the vivacious and outspoken bisexual performance artist in Jonathan Larson's off-Broadway rock opera “Rent” (1995). She continued to play the role when “Rent” was moved to Broadway in 1996. There, she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical. She also met her future husband, costar Taye Diggs, who played the role of Benny.
Following her stunning Broadway debut, Menzel was signed to Hollywood Records in 1998 and released her first solo album, “Still I Can't Be Still.” The single “Follow If You Lead” was featured on the soundtrack of “The Other Sister” (1999). On writing and recording “Still I Can't Be Still,” Menzel said, "Reliving some of my past was very painful, but I wanted this album to be as real as possible."
Meanwhile, Menzel performed Off-Broadway in “The Vagina Monologues” in 1999 and provided the voice of Circe in a 1998 episode of Disney’s animated TV series based on the 1997 film and the Greek myth, "Hercules."
Entering the new millennium, Menzel created the role of Dorothy in “Summer of 42” (2000) at the Goodspeed and played Sheila in an Encores Production of “Hair.” She then starred with Taye Diggs in Andrew Lippa's successful off-Broadway production of "The Wild Party," which was based on Joseph Moncure March's 1928 narrative poem of the same name. Menzel then played Amneris in a musical by Elton John, Tim Rice, Robert Falls, David Henry Hwang, and Linda Woolverton, “Aida” (2001). The musical, which is based on Verdi's opera, was staged at the Palace Theatre in New York City.
During this time, Menzel made her feature debut in an independent romantic comedy film written and co-produced by the film's stars, Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen, “Kissing Jessica Stein” (2001). She followed it up with an unaccredited role in Fisher Stevens' film version of Patrick Breen's romantic comedy play, "Just a Kiss" (2002; starring Marley Shelton, Ron Eldard, Kyra Sedgwick, Marisa Tomei, and Peter Dinklage) and a costarring role in Debra Kirschner's coming-of-age indie film “The Tollbooth” (2004), alongside Marla Sokoloff, Liz Stauber, and Tovah Feldshuh. She was also cast alongside Johnny Davidson, Googy Gress, and Savannah Haske in Jennifer Houlton's drama film "Water" (2004). On television, Menzel was spotted as a guest in an episode of FOX’s sitcom "Grounded for Life" and the FX Network's dramatic television series starring Denis Leary, "Rescue Me." She also played Francine Prescott in two episodes of UPN’s law drama series starring Taye Diggs, "Kevin Hill."
“I can't wait to get back to Broadway. I'm focusing on the album for the next few months but as soon as I find something I'm passionate about, I am right there.” Idina Menzel
Returning to Broadway, Menzel portrayed Fanny Brice in a benefit concert of “Funny Girl” on September 23, 2002. In October the following year, she starred as Elphaba, a young Wicked Witch of the West, in the new Broadway musical “Wicked,” a musical adaptation of the Gregory Maguire book and a prequel to The “Wizard of Oz.” Her portrayal of Elphaba in the musical won her the 2004 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical.
On portraying Elphaba, Menzel said, “Having lived with Elphaba for so long on Broadway, it was so great to have some time away from her so I could discover new things to bring to the London version and it was so amazing to collaborate with director Joe Montello again.”
Following her Tony win, Menzel released a six-track album on Zel Records titled "Here" on February 10, 2004. She then reprised the role of Maureen Johnson for the big screen adaptation of Jonathan Larson's Tony winning musical, “Rent” (2005). Her performance in the film garnered positive reviews, earning nominations at the Black Reel Awards (for Best Ensemble) and Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards (for Critics Choice Award - Best Song).
Meanwhile, Menzel also appeared in the Michael John LaChiusa musical based on three short stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, “See What I Wanna See” (October-November 2005), at the Public Theater's Anspacher, in New York. She also performed summer concerts in and around the New England area in August 2005 and sang the duet "I Will Be There" with the late Ray Charles on the album "Genius and Friends," which was released on September 20, 2005.
Next, Menzel costarred with Colin Farrell, Salma Hayek and Donald Sutherland in the Robert Towne directed “Ask the Dust” (2006) and in Kevin Lima's part live-action, part animated feature, “Enchanted” (2007), alongside Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden, Timothy Spall, Rachel Covey, and Susan Sarandon.
Meanwhile, Menzel sang a song titled "A Hero Comes Home," which was written by Glen Ballard and Alan Silvestri, during the end credits of Robert Zemeckis' fantasy film based on the Anglo-Saxon English epic poem "Beowulf" (2007; featuring Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Robin Wright Penn, Brendan Gleeson, John Malkovich, Crispin Glover, and Angelina Jolie), which earned her a World Soundtrack Award nomination for Best Original Song Written Directly for Film.
“I don't get rid of my nerves. I just try to embrace them and channel them and focus on the person in front of me. Sometimes nerves can get the best of us, but sometimes we can do the unexpected and have a real spontaneous and idiosyncratic moment.” Idina Menzel
In 2008, Menzel released a new album, "I Stand," through Warner Bros. Records and subsequently toured the U.S. to promote it. Meanwhile, she also performed at the Vassar Powerhouse Theater in a new musical called "Nero," in which she played the part of Poppea.
TV viewers recently caught Menzel in a March 2009 episode of "Private Practice," an ABC medical drama starring her husband Taye Diggs. She is also continuing her U.S. tour.
“I just want to keep working and keep growing.” Idina Menzel
Tony: Best Actress (Musical), "Wicked," 2004