“Joanne, which way to the stage?”, Maureen asks in Jonathan Larson’s 1996 musical Rent before performing her song “Over the Moon.” The role of Maureen was a breakout one for Idina Menzel, who takes that quote and adapts it as the title of a documentary film about her life, Idina Menzel: Which Way to the Stage? Premiering on Disney+ on Friday, December 9th, the film presents an intimate look at the life of the voice of Elsa as she achieves a lifelong dream of performing at Madison Square Garden.
Cameras were rolling in the fall of 2018 as Idina Menzel joined Josh Groban for an eighteen-stop tour that would conclude at Madison Square Garden. As she hits the road, the star with the big voice opens up about her childhood, her early years in showbusiness, the tough period between Rent and Wicked, motherhood, marriage, and more. Part documentary, part concert film, Idina gets candid about many things while showcasing the stress of being a working mother on tour while trying to have another baby through IVF treatment.
The film avoids talking-head interviews, with Idina telling her own story on the go, or having casual dialogue with people in her life to let viewers in. As a fan of the star, I was entranced by archival footage from productions of Rent and Wicked in addition to home videos of her early years as a wedding singer. For viewers who may not know about Idina’s pop music career, the film also highlights some of her original songs, including “Minuet,” “I Stand,” “Queen of Swords,” and a newer song that hasn’t yet appeared on one of her albums. The 90-minute film doesn’t typically pause for full performances, but there’s enough of “Let It Go,” “For Good,” “Defying Gravity,” and “Seasons of Love” to appease fans who came expecting a concert feature.
As incredible as Idina Menzel’s performing prowess is, what you ultimately walk away with is the story of a mother trying to have it all. You see her checking in with her husband for updates on Walker’s sports games, traveling home to take her son trick-or-treating for Halloween, and calling to talk to him whenever she can, even in the short time between finishing her set and returning to the stage for a duet with Josh Groban. The impact of divorce, both from her parents and her first marriage, also become a recurring theme, with Idina and Aaron Lohr struggling to grow their family.
With a TV-14 rating, Idina Menzel: Which Way to the Stage? isn’t necessarily aimed at young Frozen fans. The rating was earned for mild use of language, but also because it plays to a more mature audience. As much as it’s about Idina’s life and career up to this point, it’s also about her dreams of being a mother again. It’s never graphic, but there are several scenes with her medical team trying to help her conceive.
Idina Menzel: Which Way to the Stage? is an emoional tour de force. It’ll make you laugh and cry while musically carrying you through Idina’s journey. Whether you came in as a fan already, or just had a casual interest in “Adele Dazeem,” you’ll come away feeling like you’ve made a new friend.
I give Idina Menzel: Which Way to the Stage? 5 out of 5 showers to wash the green girl pigment off.
Idina Menzel: Which Way to the Stage? premieres Friday, December 9th, only on Disney+.