Outdoor events can be dicey propositions in any case, but rarely more so than on a July evening in Atlanta, where heat, humidity, and evening thunderstorms often combine to create miserable conditions.
Not so on this night. As Atlanta's Chastain Park Amphitheater played host to Broadway legend Idina Menzel with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra-part of the Delta Airlines–sponsored Classic Chastain concert series-Mother Nature gave her blessing. The air was warm and humid but not unbearable, with overcast skies but no rain and a light breeze making for a near-perfect atmosphere for an evening out.
Menzel came dressed for the weather, in a light, strapless, chartreuse gown, her hair up and her feet bare. Backed by the ASO, conducted by Ted Sperling with musical director Rob Mounsey on piano, Menzel began with "The Life of the Party," from her off-Broadway performance in The Wild Party. She followed with a description of her recent 40th birthday, which she spent with her husband, actor Taye Diggs, and friends in Moab, Utah, and a recap of some of the difficulties she's had with parties over the years.
Introducing her second number, "I'm Not that Girl" from her Tony-winning role in Wicked, Menzel noted, "I was the green one." Of Elphaba, the Land of Oz's infamous Wicked Witch of the West, she said, "She didn't get invited to too many parties."
With the sun not yet set, Menzel had an excellent view of the crowd, many of whom were enjoying dinner and drinks in the table setup the venue uses for many such concerts. "I feel right at home here," she said, reminiscing about years spent performing at bar mitzvahs and weddings. She invited those sitting on the grass at the back of the venue to move closer and noted that she was used to not being able to see the crowd so well. "I did evening makeup, not day makeup!" she added.
Menzel mixed classics and pop songs effortlessly, from a mashup of Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" from The New Yorkers with the Police's "Roxanne" to the Lady Gaga hit "Poker Face," which she performed earlier this year on the Fox series Glee. (For that number, she turned to the orchestra and apologized "for making you play this.") She sang Barbra Streisand's "Funny Girl" and "Don't Rain on My Parade" and related that when she performed the latter at the Kennedy Center Honors for which Streisand was recognized, Streisand's post-event review was to the point: "You were good."
Menzel also featured her own composition "Gorgeous," as well as the Jimmy Webb classic "Asleep on the Wind" and "I Feel So Smoochie," made famous by Lena Horne. She even sampled a few songs she'd made up for her son, Walker, now 22 months old.
Broadway came back, of course. After noting that her last wedding performance was in 1995 because she took a role in "a little off-Broadway play called Rent," Menzel sang the show-stopper "No Day But Today," encouraging the audience to join in on the final choruses. She also sang "Look to the Rainbow" from Finian's Rainbow, and she closed with an acapella rendition of "For Good" from Wicked, followed by her best-known number, "Defying Gravity." Elphaba's triumphant anthem will in all likelihood serve as Menzel's concert closer for many years to come.
As the sun finally set over the amphitheater, turning the sky pink and leaving the amphitheater lit by candles, fireflies, and moonglow through the clouds, Menzel took to the stage a final time. "This is dedicated to my mom," she said, and she once again turned to Broadway, this time with "Tomorrow" from Annie. A perfect end to a lovely evening, turning eyes toward the next sunrise.