‘Wicked’ star Idina Menzel gets down and dirty with pop CD and actor-husband Taye Diggs



Singer Idina Menzel performs in Los Angeles, on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2008. Matt Sayles, The Associated Press

By Michael Cidoni

LOS ANGELES – For Idina Menzel, love means never having to close the bathroom door.

As the Tony-winning star of “Wicked” unveiled tracks from her first major-label CD in small private concert in Hollywood, she announced it was her fifth wedding anniversary with actor-husband Taye Diggs (TV’s “Private Practice”). As Menzel rambled on, she noted, “He was the first guy I could ever go to the bathroom in front of,” which got big laughs from the hundred or so invited attendees, including Diggs and fellow singer and labelmate Josh Groban. “It’s so romantic,” she continued, sarcastically, giggling with nervous embarrassment.

You’d think that the Long Island-born Menzel, 36, would have little to be nervous about, having sung in front of thousands as Broadway’s original Elphaba in the smash musical about the witches of Oz. She’s also a rising star in Hollywood, thanks to work as the second female lead in Walt Disney’s blockbusting “Enchanted,” vying with Amy Adams for the heart of Patrick Dempsey’s handsome lawyer, but getting her own, unexpected happy ending.

Menzel was first heard in a big way a decade ago, with her Tony-nominated turn as Maureen in the original cast of “Rent.” But the big record business is something new. Since “Rent,” she’d produced a couple of scrappy, independently released CDs, but neither made much of an impact. “I Stand” (Warner Bros.) new in stores this week, aims considerably higher, with a superstar producer (Glen Ballard; Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill”), one of the world’s biggest record companies and one of music’s most powerful publicists, Liz Rosenberg (Madonna, Josh Groban).

Associated Press Television caught up with Menzel right after her show a few weeks back.

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AP: So, brace yourself: The lead of this story is going to be, ‘Love means never having to close the bathroom door.’

Menzel: Oh, no! … You know, I grew up with my mother never letting my dad in the bathroom. And you just want to be pretty and cute all the time. You don’t want them to know. A guy once told me that it’s when a woman finally crosses that line, that they’re relieved, because they can let it rip. (Big laugh.) But I just knew when Taye, my husband, it’s more than just potty humor. It’s really being able to be myself.

AP: A lot of your fans expected you’d do a big pop-rock record like this – 10 years ago (after “Rent”). What the heck took so long?

Menzel: Well, it’s rare that a stage actress-singer gets the opportunity to cross over and do more of a pop album. It’s rare, in modern days. It used to be Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler – they did these pop albums and those are people that I really respect. And I think that that should be OK, that if you’re an artist, you express yourself in many different ways and you should be allowed to do that and that’s who I am. And I spent many years thinking that I had to choose one way, one genre, one place to kind of be an artist, and that’s not the case.

AP: Unlike Streisand and Midler, you’re also a full-time songwriter.

Menzel: It’s funny. A lot of people are listening to the music and they tell me that it’s uplifting and it’s hopeful and has this message. And I know that when I write these songs, I’m feeling so despondent and I guess I use the songs, instead of them coming out real morbid and morose, they come out just my way of talking myself through and giving myself something to look forward to. So, it’s funny. (The title) ‘I Stand’ is just about finding myself.

AP: And who did you find?

Menzel: I found an artist who uses her music, and her voice and her speaking voice, and just wants to be known as someone who’s authentic and tries to be true to the moment at any point in time, and doesn’t want to be pigeonholed.

AP: And one who doesn’t close the bathroom door when her husband’s around.

Menzel: Sometimes, I do, if I really want to spare him.