What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the name Idina Menzel (apart from Adele Dazeem)? For me it must be the certainty to embrace oneself. It’s no coincidence that the singer/actress has been carefully selecting through all these years her acting choices to match a certain type of character: the Other.
Menzel has been depicting for long a handful of individuals that can only be described as the Other: a well-thought character which is immerse in a constant state of being different from the common and very shared social identity. her representations, though, are not victims.
If there is one thing that could define Idina’s singular portrayal of Otherness over the past years is her distinctive and constant refusal to be victimized. She has singlehandedly managed to depict a wide variety of colorful characters that always have refused to lose their unique qualities in order to be accepted. They, instead, try to do something about it.
Just think about Idina’s most iconic characters to date: Elphaba from Wicked and Elsa from Frozen. They are both strong and powerful women searching for their true self while coping with a society that values passiveness more than authenticity and independence.
Both Frozen and Wicked revolve around the idea of embracing oneself, of accepting who you are, of not letting anyone to define you, and of taking the Otherness as something that you own and not as something that is not in your control.
Elphaba, on one hand, is a young girl who struggles to cope with the very idea of being a powerful green witch in a place where is not common to have colored people with magic around. Elsa, on the other, is a conflicted woman living with magicals powers whilst trying to do her best as monarch on a kingdom that is not used to have only a queen as their leader.
What’s really daunting about this characters is not just their Otherness, but the way they embrace it as an essential part of who they are. Both Elsa and Elphaba are constrained to fit into a box imposed by the ones around them, but because of their difference, it’s something they don’t want to achieve. They want to be who they are, without any limitations.
Just as Idina’s life, her characters mostly use music as a way to communicate. Songs in her movies are often used by her characters as a performative device, where inner thoughts, and identity traits, only become real when they are sung.
If you are familiar with pop culture, you should know that ‘Let it Go‘ and ‘Defying Gravity‘ are ones of the most powerful and empowering songs to date. If you are familiarized with Idina Menzel’s work, you’ll know that they are her go-to melodies when talking about the importance of her career. Within their narratives, these songs function as their hymns to Otherness and their way to embrace it. They are Elphaba and Elsa’s ultimate statement.
Idina’s other famous character, Maureen Johnson, has plenty of ways to express her Otherness in the hit Broadway show, Rent. She is a free person that doesn’t understand life as something that could be either black or white, but something more big in between, an outcast that stands for what she believes and a woman that doesn’t like to be put in a box.
Unlike Elsa and Elphaba, she doesn’t have to push through a long and hurtful path before embracing her Otherness. She is who she is and she doesn’t care what any other person could think about her or her actions. She is not defined by people nor does she is a victim of their actions. She even has a Tango named after her that really sums up the way people perceive her, making it her ultimate statement.
Even her brief, but stellar, appearance in Disney’s Enchanted as Nancy Tremaine could easily be described as an empowered woman sidelined by her Otherness. Her role within the narrative is to act essentialy as the Other of the Princess Giselle (Amy Adams). She is, after all, the girlfriend of the protagonist’s love interest.
Portrayed by other actress, her arc in the movie could easily fall over the antagonist place. Instead, on Idina’s hands, we got the perfect Otherness arc for a secondary character: she is a succesfull and confident woman looking for love that eventually ends up marrying a charming prince not because the story told her to, but because she decided to.
There’s something quite exciting and admirable about Idina Menzel’s narrative based on her acting choices: in order to embrace oneself as the Other one must make Otherness visible.