Idina Menzel, she doesn't do things halfway.
Whether delivering a heartfelt tribute to Marvin Hamlisch, the late conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops, telling a rambling story about someone she remembered as a thorn in her side during her early years on the wedding/bar mitzah circuit, or bringing onstage young members of the audience to help sing "Take Me or Leave Me" from her first Broadway hit, "Rent," the iconic singer gave a memorable performance Sunday night at Heinz Hall.
Idina Menzel With the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra with resident conductor Lawrence Loh and Rob Mounsey, Ms. Menzel's music director on piano, was like a summer's day. At times sunny, at times stormy and a tad annoying, it ended with the equivalent of a rainbow: Ms. Menzel belting her signature number from "Wicked," "Defying Gravity."
Along the way, she had a little help from her friends.
In the first half, Mr. Loh directed the PSO through lovely, lush selections from "West Side Story" (Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim), "Girl Crazy" (George and Ira Gershwin) and "Chicago" (John Kander and Fred Ebb).
With Broadway orchestras dwindling in size, it's always a thrill to hear the full power of these songs. The orchestra had fun with two of the Kander and Ebb numbers, with the string section strumming their instruments like ukuleles during "All That Jazz" and others whistling the melody to "All I Care About is Love."
But an exceptionally long intermission -- about 25 minutes -- was followed by Mr. Loh's announcement that Ms. Mendel was "not feeling super-well right now." When the diva arrived on stage shortly to sing "The Wizard and I" from "Wicked," she was casually dressed in a blue maxi dress and, true to the title of her latest CD/DVD, "Idina Menzel Live: Barefoot at the Symphony."
Sniffling through the program, she apologized several times for not being well, "I wanted to be perfect," she said.
Fans of the Tony Award-winner know Ms. Menzel has not only a voice, but quite a mouth. During the course of the evening, she dropped at least a half-dozen F-bombs, at one point adding, "If you didn't notice, I'm not the classiest chick."
For the most part, however, the relatively young audience seemed not to mind. Whether throwing a throat lozenge to someone in the front row or sharing the spotlight with an astonishingly talented young fan named Tyler, who helped her through some high notes on a couple of songs, she charmed her fans like some amusing, crazy best friend.
A highlight was her tribute to Mr. Hamlisch, who died suddenly last year and was the conductor for "Barefoot at the Symphony," which was recorded at The Royal Conservatory's Koerner Hall in Toronto.
Calling him a friend and mentor, she recalled how she would join his "sacred space" by the piano to sing. Kneeling on a piano bench, Ms. Menzel then swung into "What I Did For Love," from Mr. Hamlisch's "A Chorus Line."
When she finished, she blew a kiss to heaven.
Pittsburgh was Ms. Menzel's last stop after almost two years of symphony concerts. Next up: a Washington, D.C. prep for the Broadway-bound "If/Then," a new musical from "Next to Normal" composers Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey.
Her voice was especially strong while performing a number from that show, "Learn to Live Without," but in self-deprecating fashion, she prefaced the song saying, "It could be cut by then [Broadway], so who knows?"
Maria Sciullo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG.