Oh Say Can You Sing?
Idina Menzel Did Not Botch the National Anthem. Finally.
We love Idina Menzel. We love her despite the fact that she seems to choke at every live performance. But at Sunday's Super Bowl, finally, she did just fine.
Breathe easy, everyone. She did it. Idina Menzel sang the National Anthem at the Super Bowl, and while her bizarrely arranged a cappella version was nowhere near the A+ version we're used to from belting divas at the game, our friend did just fine. Finally.
If you're a fan of Idina Menzel, the announcement that the ghost of Adele Dazeem would be performing the National Anthem at this year's Super Bowl—an honor previously given to iconic divas including Whitney Houston, Beyonce, and Christina Aguilera—was thrilling. It was also incredibly stressful.
Because there is nothing more anxiety-inducing than Idina Menzel giving a nationally televised live performance. She is one helluva performer. A Tony-winning Broadway superstar. A global sensation responsible for "Let It Go" playing on loop in all of our heads, all of the time. She also has a history of really miffing it during high-profile performances. Girl has a tendency to choke.
As is her way, Menzel looked like she had to WORK for every single note during Sunday's version of the National Anthem. The arrangement she chose did, at times, veer towards Maya-Rudolph-on-SNL nonsensical territory, and she was, at times, flatter than a football in New England. (Did I nail that #sports reference? Forgive me if I didn't.)
But Menzel went for those high notes; gritted her teeth; adopted that pained, tortured look of hers; and she did just fine. But boy were we nervous.
There is no doubt that Idina Menzel is one of the most talented, most impressive musical theatre stars of the last 20 years. If you saw her in Rent or in Wicked or been to one of her concerts you know that the woman can not just belt her face off, but she is an incredibly charismatic and captivating performer.
Wicked may be cheesy and liking it might be the musical theatre equivalent of being "basic" these days, but if you were lucky enough to be in the audience when Menzel was being hoisted to the rafters and in good voice to set fire to those "Defying Gravity" runs, you got goosebumps. Her "Take Me or Leave Me" in Rent is that brilliant combination of effortless and fun, but actually really hard to pull off. And if you've seen her on Glee, you know her special talent for not just singing a song, but acting the hell out of it.
Theatre fans are like proud parents when their Broadway babies get the opportunity to show off what they can do in front of mainstream, mass audiences that don't typically get a chance to see them on the Great White Way. And with Menzel, we're getting a little too good at the dead-eyed, plastered-on smile when she finishes her big, high-profile TV performance: "Sweetie, you did so good!."
The Tony Awards mark the one occasion national audiences get a chance to sample what Broadway has to offer. There was even more interest in checking out the ceremony than usual the year Wicked competed, as the musical had become such a blockbuster smash that it was already the rare musical to earn fans all across America. Those fans couldn't wait to see Menzel perform "Defying Gravity" on TV. And those fans couldn't help but cringe as Menzel, who was reportedly sick during the telecast, croaked out a series of strained, pitchy notes during the song's famous climax.
During other important TV performances, it's not uncommon to actually be able to see the fear of God in Menzel's eyes as she builds up to the big notes of a song. After a career talking a bit obsessively about how much she admires Barbra Streisand, Menzel performed "Don't Rain On My Parade" in front of Babs at the Kennedy Center Honors. The poor woman looked absolutely petrified.
Of course, there was the Adele Dazeem incident at last year's Oscars. After years of trying to parlay her Broadway superstar status into Hollywood acclaim, Menzel finally did it when "Let It Go" from Frozen became such a sensation. Her performance of the song should've been her moment of glory, her "I made it!" moment. And then John Travolta butchered her name, which understandably rattled poor Menzel, and with all of Hollywood watching in the audience and the entire world watching on TV, Menzel didn't hit high notes in the song's final measures.
By the time she squeaked out the last bit about cold not bothering her anyway, Menzel herself looked legitimately disappointed. She knew she botched it.
Even her most recent Tony Awards performance, an astonishingly complicated torch song from the musical If/Then, was a tiring experience. You see, Menzel absolutely nailed the number. She was so, so good. But each time she swallowed a breath to reach for those high notes, we held ours. It was like watching the vocal acrobatics equivalent of someone trying to dismantle a bomb. Every second is one false move away from an explosion…or a bum note.
Just recently, Menzel performed the song in Times Square for ABC's nationally televised New Year's Rockin' Eve special. Oh boy did she mess up that one. Squawking out one bad big note after another, Menzel began 2015 drawing the ire of the internet's meanies, who vilified her for the under-par performance. She responded winningly to those critics, tweeting a passage from an interview she gave a few months prior along with a picture of her at the New Year's Eve gig.
“There are about 3 million notes in a two-and-a-half-hour musical; being a perfectionist, it took me a long time to realize that if I’m hitting 75 percent of them, I’m succeeding,” it read. “Performing isn’t only about the acrobatics and the high notes. It’s staying in the moment, connecting with the audience in an authentic way, and making yourself real to them through the music. I am more than the notes I hit, and that’s how I try to approach my life. You can’t get it all right all the time, but you can try your best. If you’ve done that, all that’s left is to accept your shortcomings and have the courage to try to overcome them.”