When Idina Menzel agreed to let a camera crew follow her across the U.S. for a new documentary, she hoped to chronicle the fulfillment of her lifelong dream of taking the stage at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Due out on Disney+ Friday, “Idina Menzel: Which Way to the Stage?” captures the excitement of that 2018 concert for posterity. True to form, the Tony winner delivers goosebump-inducing showstoppers from Broadway’s “Rent” and “Wicked,” as well as a selection of pop-rock tracks from her two solo albums. A behind-the-scenes glimpse at her evolution into a Disney princess, by way of 2013’s animated smash “Frozen” and its 2019 sequel, is also a highlight.
But “Which Way to the Stage?” also looks beyond theatrics to offer a moving portrait of a working mother who at a relatable crossroads. Amid the chaos of her tour, Menzel attempts ― to varying degrees of success ― to prioritize moments with her 13-year-old son, Walker, whom she shares with ex-husband Taye Diggs. At the same time, she and her current husband, Aaron Lohr, are hoping to expand their family.
“We’re all performing. We’re all trying to get through the day, do what we love in our work and also be present in our lives, for the people we love,” Menzel told HuffPost. “As much as I want to be in the spotlight, wear sequined outfits, get the accolades and have a crowd cheering for me, it’s just as important for me to be at my son’s basketball game, and go trick-or-treating with him.”
Working with director Anne McCabe, Menzel looks back at her own childhood on New York’s Long Island through home videos and archival photos, and revisits the reception hall where she spent her young adult years as a wedding singer with big dreams. (The 1980s and ’90s hairstyles that mark each of those life chapters are worthy of their own retrospective.)
As Menzel made a name for herself, private tribulations emerged. Her parents divorced when she was 15, leaving her with “a lot of neuroses and distrust.” The film’s biggest revelation, however, is her experience undergoing fertility treatment while on tour as she tries to have a baby with Lohr. Ultimately, she must contend with the fact that becoming a mom for the second time “wasn’t meant to be.”
“I felt it was important for people, especially women, to understand that there’s no shame in the failure of that process,” said Menzel, who hadn’t spoken publicly about her attempt to have a second child until now. “It was helpful for me to not stay the victim. I compartmentalized a lot, but having an outlet to make music with my band every night was healing. It helped me to stay true to why I do what I do, and that’s to make other people feel good.”
These days, Menzel is busier than ever, turning in well-received performances in 2019’s “Uncut Gems,” starring Adam Sandler, and this fall’s “Disenchanted,” the long-awaited sequel to Disney’s “Enchanted.” She also unveiled a clothing line, Encore by Idina, this year and made her children’s publishing debut this year with the picture book “Loud Mouse,” co-written with her sister Cara Mentzel.
Watch the trailer for “Idina Menzel: Which Way to the Stage?” below.
But the actor and singer isn’t one to dwell on the past, or focus too much on a recent success. Fittingly, “Which Way To The Stage?” climaxes with a chilling rendition of “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked,” and like Elphaba, her character in that musical, she’s eager to embrace the future with enthusiasm.
“I want to keep developing original roles. But I also want to travel and take my family to see the world. I want to keep showing up at my kid’s games and sitting on the couch with my husband and binge-watching TV,” she said. “At this point in my life, I’m willing to take a little credit for being a good messenger.”