Hear Idina Menzel Sing Live in Her New Musical

“Ever since Rent, I have made it a priority to originate roles and shine a light on new work,” Idina Menzel tells Billboard. “It takes lots of patience and fortitude, but there is truly nothing as rewarding as seeing your kernel of an idea fully realized with a group of people you love and admire so deeply.”

The Broadway icon’s latest project in that vein is the new musical Redwood, currently playing at La Jolla Playhouse in California. For Menzel — who plays Jesse, a successful businesswoman, mother and wife who finds herself as a personal crossroads and finds unexpected answers in the forests of Northern California — the show is an especially personal creative endeavor. “The story of a woman at a turning point in her life paralleled with the resilience, wisdom and strength of the redwood tree was one that spoke to me deep in my soul,” Menzel says. “Nature’s power to heal and connect us as human beings is essential in this turbulent world we are living in.”

Idina Menzel backstage during REDWOOD at La Jolla Playhouse.
Idina Menzel backstage during REDWOOD at La Jolla Playhouse.

Menzel, who released her latest album Drama Queen in August of last year, isn’t just the star of the production. She co-conceived Redwood with director, writer and co-lyricist Tina Landau (recently of Broadway’s inventive SpongeBob SquarePants musical) over the course of many years, delving deeply into the development of Jesse as a character.

Menzel and Landau also “knew we wanted to find a new young composer who could bring a fresh take to musical theater” for the show, bringing in Kate Diaz for a score that Menzel describes as having “a beautiful, earthy and soulful quality as well as expansive and cinematic. When I perform Kate’s music, I am able to use all the different colors in my voice. I’m not just shooting for the rafters. I’m expressing myself similarly to how I express myself in my own songwriting.” (Diaz also co-wrote the lyrics with Landau).

While the La Jolla run of Redwood ends March 31, the show has its sights set on Broadway — which certainly seems more likely than not with Menzel and her creative collaborators on board. “We knew we wanted the production to be cutting edge and unconventional,” Menzel says. “We have encouraged one another to dream big, break rules, and not compromise our creative ideas. There’s a deep sense of creative freedom and trust in how we work.”

Here, Menzel exclusively shares with Billboard a live recording of her performing “Great Escape,” recorded during a performance of Redwood.

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