Ahead of her new documentary, Idina Menzel: Which Way to the Stage?, she shares what it’s like to realize it’s “time to let that go” — and focus on the present.
Idina Menzel has been keeping a secret for the last four years.
Menzel tried unsuccessfully to have a baby with her second husband, Aaron Lohr. After several rounds (too many she lost count) of in vitro fertilization, she didn't get the follicle count or a go-ahead from the doctor that the cycle would have been good enough to complete the whole process.
“At a certain time, you're exhausted emotionally and physically. It becomes apparent that it is just time to let that go and move on,” she tells InStyle of ending IVF.
It’s an emotional story that the 51-year-old actress discusses candidly in her new documentary, Idina Menzel: Which Way to the Stage? streaming Dec. 9 on Disney+. It follows the singer’s journey on a 16-show national tour in 2018 that culminated with a concert at the world-famous Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Menzel and Lohr, who starred in the 2005 film adaptation of Rent together, married in 2017 under a chuppah in her backyard. She already shares a son, Walker, with her ex-husband of 10 years and former Rent co-star, Taye Diggs.
Menzel admits she “didn’t 100%” want a second child at 48, saying “how hard that would be for me at this age and knowing a lot of things that I still want to do in my career.” On top of constant doctors appointments, the medical process was happening simultaneously throughout the tour. But she soon learned “the more you [try for it] — and when it doesn't happen, you're upset, you realize how much you want it.”
“I didn't think I wanted to have a baby,” Menzel says in a video clip from the documentary shared exclusively with InStyle. “But then Aaron has been the most amazing man to my son — who has a wonderful dad — who has found a way to have his own incredible relationship with Walker.”
For the Long Island native who grew up in Syosset, belting covers at weddings and bar mitzvahs on the weekends while studying at New York University — Madison Square Garden has always been her dream performance venue. There’s even 2004 footage shown in the documentary to prove it.
“It was the place you aspired to play at. I wanted it as a memory and something that I could look back on,” the Tony Award winner explains about why she chose this moment in time to capture on camera.
With a robust résumé, it could have been any other pivotal life-changing point in her career: the journey of originating Elphaba in Wicked on Broadway, voicing Elsa in the Frozen franchise or prepping for the Oscars only to have her name pronounced wrong before singing “Let It Go.” (A good sport, Menzel insists the whole Adele Dazeem thing was the greatest thing to ever happen to her.)
Perhaps it could have also been about filming Disenchanted, the sequel to Enchanted which recently started streaming on Disney+. There’s also her new children’s book, Loud Mouse, co-authored with her sister, Cara Mentzel, out in stores now.
When you unpack the layers of the documentary — from her parents’ splitting up one year on Thanksgiving, her divorce with Diggs, a career lull post her tour de force Broadway debut in Rent — Menzel’s rise to stardom weaves in and out of literally figuring out “which way to the stage” for a mic check and rehearsal (which pays homage to a line from Rent and ironically also the title of a 2022 off-Broadway play about stage-dooring for Idina Menzel’s autograph).
“To me, it was less about the road to The Garden and more about the things we do on the way: the struggle and challenge of balancing motherhood with a career and making choices and what our priorities are,” Menzel says. “It's the intimacy and letting people have a window into my soul ... and what makes me tick.”
Menzel likes to win. At first, she believed getting pregnant was going to be easy since it was with Walker. “For some reason, I was arrogant. The doctors did say it [was] late, but [I seemed] to have a really good chance,” she says. “They sort of filled my head with all this stuff that I was going to be like one in a hundred women that actually gets pregnant at my age. Because I'm a competitive person [I thought] I'm going to do it.”
The formerly taboo topic of IVF is steadily becoming more openly discussed among women in Hollywood. Jennifer Aniston recently revealed that she, too, had tried IVF. Menzel said she couldn’t fully grasp the heartache Aniston must have endured when it failed.
“I've experienced being pregnant and how beautiful that is. I wouldn't begin to understand her experience, what she needs and what she wanted in her life,” Menzel says, carefully choosing her words. “But perhaps the fact that this is coming to light from different women — it's just something that needs to be explored. It’s probably a sign from the universe that we need to discuss it and have this conversation.”
Some of the documentary scenes shared with InStyle show Menzel at her in vitro appointments discussing egg retrievals, something many people might be surprised that she would share so publicly.
I want women to feel like they're being seen and heard. And for people to understand that experience a lot of us go on, how emotional it is, what it does to our bodies and how it affects us day to day, let alone trying to sing high notes and get on stage.
“There's a fine line between me being vulnerable and exposing too much. It's something that I wrestle with but not too much because I'm okay with being vulnerable. I feel like it’s really what an artist does and how you connect with your audience in the most profound ways. It's something you get used to doing,” she explains of why she included these intimate moments in the documentary.
“I want women to feel like they're being seen and heard. And for people to understand that experience a lot of us go on, how emotional it is, what it does to our bodies and how it affects us day to day, let alone trying to sing high notes and get on stage.”
In addition to navigating fertility treatments, Menzel also balanced being a working mom to 13-year-old Walker, and time away on the road. There are several endearing moments in the documentary when Menzel is being called on stage to perform and she pauses to quickly FaceTime her son to hear about school or basketball games. The candid backstage moments show Menzel being a mother first and performer second.
...In this kind of chaotic career that I've chosen, you never know what's going to happen. There’s many highs and lows. So when something happens that you've wanted your whole life, you just need to grasp it.
“Before I had Walker, I was more rigid. My sleep pattern had to be a certain way so I could be in good voice. I wouldn't travel right before a show, because the air pressure on the airplane affects the dryness of your voice. I was harder on myself, more of a perfectionist. When I had Walker all that went out the window. You say to yourself, ‘My kid had a fever last night. I'm probably going to get his cold and it's going to fuck up in my mind what a perfect show it is.’ Once I was completely liberated by it, I would get on stage and tell myself, ‘OK, let’s see what happens.’ As a result, I ended up having better shows because I took the perfection out of it.”
Menzel wanted many of these typically private moments featured in the documentary as a keepsake — but it was also part of a precedent she set for herself to be present, “especially in this kind of chaotic career that I've chosen,” she says, adding, “You never know what's going to happen. There’s many highs and lows. So when something happens that you've wanted your whole life, you just need to grasp it.”
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