Idina Menzel Brings Some Gaga To The Philharmonic

“Hey you guys, don’t you feel that you’ve arrived, playing this song?” quipped singer Idina Menzel to the assembled elite musicians of the New York Philharmonic. They were in the middle of performing Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face,” for the first and quite possibly the last time.

Menzel, the Tony-winning “Wicked” star, was making her Philharmonic debut with a one-woman show over the weekend, part of an ongoing concert tour. And despite the rarified environment of Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, she wasn’t going to ignore any Gleeks that might have been lurking in the audience – fans, that is, of the Fox megahit “Glee,” on which she has a recurring guest role.

And so Menzel and the orchestra, conducted by none other than Marvin Hamlisch, launched into “Poker Face,” the Gaga song she’d performed on the show with Lea Michele, who plays the lead character Rachel.

Photo: AP Photo
 Idina Menzel performs with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall in New York.

Menzel wasn’t above entertaining the crowd by making some painfully perplexed faces, though, at the lyrics she was singing: “I’m bluffin’ with my muffin,” for example, or “stunnin’ with my love-glue-gunning.”

The sellout crowd clearly did include some Gleeks, who squealed at the first mention of the show, and yelped when she began “Poker Face.” She dished a little, telling the crowd how she’d had a glass-half-full, glass-half-empty reaction to her new role: Thrilled to be on the show, but shocked that she’d be playing a mother to an actress who is 24. (Menzel is 39.) “It wasn’t one of my best days,” she quips of that realization.

The actress also pleased the “Wicked” fans in attendance with a couple of songs from that blockbuster show, in which she originated the role of Elphaba: the mournful “I’m Not That Girl,” and, as a finale, the showstopper “Defying Gravity” – one of the few moments of the concert in which the orchestra, going full force, threatened to drown out even Menzel’s huge voice.

In between, there was a wide range of music, sometimes within the same number: A Cole Porter song, “Love for Sale,” morphed into “Roxanne” by The Police. And from the groundbreaking musical “Rent,” her first Broadway show, there was “No Day But Today.”

There were also two iconic songs made famous by her idol, Barbra Streisand – “Funny Girl” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” – accompanied by an amusing anecdote about meeting Streisand at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2008. (After singing to Streisand, an endeavor that made her hugely nervous, Menzel was then ignored by the iconic singer at dinner, until Streisand peered at her and said: “Did you sing to me? I didn’t have my glasses on. You were good.”)

Arriving onstage for an encore, Menzel was implored by Hamlisch to perform one of his own compositions; she obliged with “What I Did for Love” from “A Chorus Line.” She also sang a lovely, adult version of “Tomorrow” from the show “Annie,” which she dedicated to her mother.

But a true highlight of Menzel’s singing had to be the moment when she lowered the microphone and sang one more “Wicked” song – “For Good.” Voice totally unenhanced, she was still able to reach the rafters.