Toward the beginning of Idina Menzel’s two-hour set at the Benedum Center on Aug. 25, the Tony Award-winning actress remarked, “I was green for a very long time.”
The comment was a nod to Menzel’s acclaimed portrayal of the Wicked Witch of the West — Elphaba — in the musical “Wicked,” a role she originated on Broadway and later reprised in London’s West End.
Menzel is green no more.
The Jewish singer, who got her start as a teenager performing at bar mitzvahs and weddings, proved to a packed Pittsburgh house that she can stand alongside the musical icons of earlier generations, including her own idols, Ethel Merman and Barbra Streisand.
Menzel opened the show — a stop on her 2015 World Tour — with “Defying Gravity,” a signature tune for the singer, who later joked that she could see herself still performing it in her old age, in some dive in Vegas, speaking the lyrics instead of reaching for the high notes.
Fans of “Wicked,” who can be almost religiously devoted to the Stephen Schwartz musical, seemed elated as Menzel treated them to two more selections from the show later in the evening: a Broadway caliber rendition of “The Wizard and I,” and a haunting, a cappella version of “For Good,” which she performed without a microphone.
From the outset of the show, the star began developing a warm, funny and engaging rapport with her audience, which included many little girls, clearly fans of the Disney musical “Frozen.” Menzel voiced the role of the Snow Queen, Elsa, winning critical acclaim for her performance of the song “Let it Go.”
At times a bit off-color, Menzel, 44, asked the Benedum crowd: “Any little girls with blue dresses out there? Just hold your ears tonight.”
She was so comfortable with her audience that she not only removed her gold high-heel shoes about halfway through the show, but even peeled off her false eyelashes because they were irritating her eyes. She passed them off to an eager fan who ran up to the stage with her hand out.
Menzel’s voice is strong, clear and beautiful. She moved with equal ease from Streisand’s “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” to Joni Mitchell’s “River,” to a tribute to Merman, which included the show stopping “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”
Other selections included “Love for Sale,” “Roxanne” and Radiohead’s “Creep,” further showcasing Menzel’s versatility as a singer.
But when the artist came into the audience to join in duets with four different fans, the concert became a party.
Menzel gave the microphone to two women, then two men, to sing along with her on “Take Me or Leave Me” from “Rent,” Menzel’s first Broadway job for which she earned a Tony Award nomination. When one of the men belted out his part with a voice that plainly had been well trained, the room exploded with an energy that lasted through the end of the show.
While those little girls in blue dresses had to wait for the penultimate song for what they had come to hear, they were not disappointed. Menzel invited them all to the stage to sing “Let it Go,” and as about 20 little girls came up to join her, Menzel asked if there were any little boys who wanted to come up as well.
One little boy took her up on the offer, and as he was making his way to the stage, Menzel sang impromptu lyrics praising his bravery.
She concluded her set with “Tomorrow” from “Annie,” another nod to the younger element of her fan base and an apt closing for a performer who not only has proven her musical mettle, but also no doubt has a lot to look forward to tomorrow.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.