219: The Self-Empowered Woman: Idina Menzel

Dear Followers,

First of all, thanks to everyone who has been casting votes on my behalf for the NMEDA contest for a new handicap accessible van.  Just in case you need the link (since voting lasts until May 8th), here it is: http://www.mobilityawarenessmonth.com/entrant/marilyn-willison-west-palm-beach-fl/
Now, let me introduce you to one of the entertainment world’s most talented Self-Empowered Women.
You may have seen her on Broadway in Rent or Wicked, or you may have watched her on TV’s Glee, or you may have heard her voice in the animated hit movie Frozen, or you may have heard her sing at this year’s Academy Awards when John Travolta accidentally mangled her name. The bottom line is that if you’ve had any contact at all with the entertainment world during the past two decades, you’ve probably heard Idina Menzel’s amazing voice.
Born on May 30th, 1971, in Queens, New York, she is the only Tony Award-winning actress to ever record a song (Let It Go) that has reached the top 10. Her grandparents were Russian/Eastern European immigrants, and her mother (Helene) is a therapist and her father (Stuart) worked as a pajama salesman. When she was 15, her parents divorced (1: No Paternal Safety Net), and she began working as a wedding and bar mitzvah singer (2: An Early Sense Of Direction). Her family is Jewish, and she attended Hebrew school, but didn’t have a bat mitzvah (3: Belief In The Unbelievable).
She attended NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and earned an BFA in drama before being cast in the rock musical Rent. She was nominated for a Tony Award, but didn’t win. Instead, she recorded her first solo album (Still I Can’t Be Still), and performed in a variety of other Broadway and off-Broadway plays.
In 2003, she and Kristin Chenoweth starred on Broadway in Wicked, and Menzel won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. When the play opened in London, she was the highest-paid female performer in the West End–earning $30,000 per week. In 2003, Menzel married the actor Taye Diggs, a fellow performer in Rent. Racist protesters were angered by the couple’s interracial marriage, and both received threatening letters. When Menzel was in Wicked, a threat was made against her life because Diggs is black and Menzel is white and Jewish (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest), but the theater provided heavy security and no additional incidents occurred.
Menzel has appeared on PBS programs, at the 1998 Lilith Fair, and in a variety of movies including Just A KissKissing Jessica Stein, The Toll Booth and Water. In 2008, she performed on the M&M Candies Float as part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. In 2009, Menzel and Diggs had a son, Walker Nathaniel Diggs, and she has admitted “I didn’t know how much your heart would feel…there is so much love” (16: Intensive Motherhood).
In 2010, Menzel founded “A Broader Way Foundation,” to help support financially-needy young people in the arts with camp programs, scholarships, educational programming, and opportunities to experience professional performances. The following year, she ran a ten-day performing arts camp in Lenox, Massachusetts where young girls were able to collaborate with Broadway artists (7: Magnificent Obsession).
Four years ago, Menzel performed at the White House for President and Mrs. Obama. Last year, after ten years of marriage, Menzel and Diggs separated (15: Forget About prince Charming). In light of the record-breaking success of Frozen ($1.1 Billion as of this writing), Menzel’s role as Queen Elsa has elevated the 43 year old singer to superstar status.
Looking forward to your comments…
About Marilyn Murray Willison

The author of six non-fiction books, Willison worked as Health and Fitness Editor at the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, and wrote book reviews, health, beauty, fashion, and travel articles on a regular basis for the Los Angeles Times. Her byline has appeared in a wide variety of American newspapers and magazines.