In October, Idina Menzel released her latest holiday album, featuring a duet with one of pop’s biggest stars; in November, she’ll reprise her role in one of the most successful Disney franchises ever; and in December, she’ll co-star in a gritty drama in which her character discovers Adam Sandler trapped naked in a trunk after a deal gone wrong. The 48-year-old is refusing to stay in one lane, and it’s by design. “I want to challenge myself,” she says.
The actress-singer has long sought to diversify her projects after first breaking through on the theater stage. When Menzel was in her early 20s, she landed a breakout role as Maureen Johnson in the 1996 musical Rent. She gave her final performance a year later and hoped to translate her Broadway success into mainstream music stardom with a 1998 debut album on Hollywood Records. The LP flopped, and after the label dropped her, “I couldn’t get a job for years,” she says today. “And then, I finally got Wicked.”
It wasn’t long after her run as Elphaba in the 2003 Broadway retelling of The Wizard of Oz, however, that the same self-doubt she felt post-Rent returned. Menzel later scored gigs in the 2007 Disney film Enchanted and on TV’s Glee -- she acted and sang in both -- but nothing stuck. “I know how it feels to be in something really successful and then for it to go away -- to have to work yourself back up into the picture again,” says Menzel. “I’m always wrestling with the fact that I’m more comfortable in myself as a singer; as a regular human being, I tend to go inside and self-deprecate. But when I step into myself as an entertainer and a vocalist, I’ve always been larger than life.” Which is how Menzel landed her biggest role to date.