Behind the Curtain with Glee's Idina Menzel

Idina Menzel might be the biggest star you've never heard of—unless you're from New York and/or all up in the Broadway scene. In her 15 years in the business, she's appeared in only a handful of TV shows and films—but she's originated two of the biggest Broadway roles in recent history. She earned a Tony nomination for playing Maureen Johnson in Rent and won a Tony for her role as Elphaba in Wicked. Sound familiar?

These days, Menzel is in front of the camera rather than on the stage. Her Glee character, Vocal Adrenaline coach Shelby Corcoran, first appeared in "Hell-O" and returns tonight in "Dream On." I spoke to her about, well, being a Gleek. What it was like to work with the cast of Glee?
Idina Menzel: It was wonderful. It was a lot of fun. It’s been a perfect, perfect job for me. I have an eight-month-old and this was my first job back after having the baby, and Ryan Murphy was so understanding and respectful of that. He put all the scenes into one day a week. So it’s been this incredible part-time job on this huge hit show. I couldn’t ask for more! And I know Lea [Michele]. We worked together on a little project about two years ago at a summer program up at Vassar. We’ve spent a lot of time together and I adore her. I know Matt [Morrison] as well from the Broadway scene. It’s just fun to be on a set with theatre people, because this is definitely a different energy [in] LA. For me, I’m not the most comfortable being out here. I definitely feel more at home in New York. So to be on a job that seems to have this sort of sensibility definitely makes me feel more at ease.

Will we see more of Shelby's relationship with Will (Morrison) in upcoming episodes?
It definitely goes on a different course. But I don’t know. If I come back maybe that will happen.

Do you think that Shelby will ever face off with Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch)?
Not really. I have one scene where I’m part of a group scene with her. I would love to be in more scenes with [Jane]. She’s just so amazing and such a nice person in real life. But my character is definitely going to show a completely different side. She’s tough, but I think you start to see why she’s so driven and where her anger may come from.

What did you think of Lea Michele and Chris Colfer’s rendition of Defying Gravity in "Wheels"?
I loved it. It was perfect. I thought it was beautiful and soaring and emotional.

Was it weird to see "your" song performed by different people?
No, it was flattering. And it’s not my song, it’s Stephen Schwartz’s song! But it’s just another gift from that show that has changed my life in so many wonderful ways. It’s an example of how it’s touched so many people. And what a phenomenon it is and how lucky I am that I got to originate such a special role.

Is there a song that you’d like to see them perform on the show?
Well, ["Defying Gravity"] was a good one [laughs]. I feel like they keep hitting them. Every time they do another song I'm like, “Oh yeah, that’s awesome.” Ryan is so great at picking the music. He just has this uncanny talent for marrying the song with the scene and the person. I leave it up to him.

What’s it like to transition from the stage to the screen?
Sometimes it’s weird. Sometimes I need to do a little check-in with myself, technically-speaking. Like where the camera is, as opposed to reaching the back row of the theatre. Usually with a good director, you can check in with them. As long you try to communicate with the person in front of you, it usually works itself out. It’s a little different on a show where there’s singing because that is theatrical and adds a different element. And there’s a tone to Glee that is very specific. So it takes a minute to make sure that you can get the tone and the rhythm right.

What is it about the stage that you love the most?
I don’t know, there’s just nothing like it. It’s a very scary place but it’s also thrilling. And those few moments amongst all the adrenaline and the nerves, those few moments that you feel in a zone and you’re really connecting with an audience—when their energy comes back at you, there’s nothing like that. I guess that’s what keeps me coming back.

Are there any other projects that you're interested in?
I’m kind of open. I’m really laid back these days because of my son and wanting to be a good mom and a wife. That’s taking priority. I want to work hard, and I’d like to be in TV and film and do more Broadway. But I’m not as rigid about what I’m doing, or when. I’m just hoping the right things come along that are challenging and can fit in with my schedule [as I] balance being a mother.

Are there any shows on TV or on Broadway that you're loving right now?
Oh, sure. I love Modern Family. Jesse Tyler Ferguson is another friend of ours from home. And stage—I want to originate another role so it’s really hard because those take years to create. But it’s a process that I really love and has worked for me.

Do you think that you and your former Wicked co-star Kristin Chenoweth will guest star on the same episode of Glee?
Maybe! I don’t even know when or if Ryan’s going to have me back I would love to come back but he’s the man. If he’s open to it I would. I think she’s done such a great job with that character. It’s hysterical.

Is your husband [Taye Diggs] going to be on Glee at some point?
Everyone’s asking that! He would absolutely love to. I put in a little good word for him with Ryan when I was on set. But I have no idea.

Who is your favorite character on Glee?
I think it would be [Sue Sylvester]. I'll just leave it at that.

Follow writer Stefanie Lee on Twitter: @StefAtTVDotCom

Comments (3)
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May 21, 2010
she's married to taye diggs? lucky man. I would love to see Kristin, Idina and jane all in the same room.
May 20, 2010
If anything can come out of that crap, it's that unsuspecting idiots discover some underrated talent like Idina or Jane Lynch
May 19, 2010
I love her voice. I am going to go and get my Rent Soundtrack for my ride to work Wed. AM..

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