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A Question From the Tattler: Why Didn’t John Travolta Know Who Idina Menzel Is?

Somehow, the mangling of the Broadway actress’s name may be the best thing to happen to her underappreciated career

Rachel Shukert
March 07, 2014
Idina Menzel attends the Oscars at Hollywood & Highland Center on March 2, 2014, in Hollywood, Calif.(Christopher Polk/Getty Images)
Idina Menzel attends the Oscars at Hollywood & Highland Center on March 2, 2014, in Hollywood, Calif.(Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

My heart hurt for Idina Menzel—or should I say, Adele Dazeem, or Nazeem, or whatever her name isn’t. It was supposed to be her big moment, the night she broke out of the Broadway ghetto and would sing, to an auditorium full of film directors and powerful producers and people with real money, a song that would shortly win the Oscar from a movie, that, due in large part to her contributions, has so far grossed close to a staggering $1 billion. This was her chance to step out of the shadow of Maureen and Elphaba and the hundreds of postings on Broadway-related Internet forums about her various quirky mannerisms and/or imagined pitch problems in both. This was her moment to be a full-fledged movie star. And then John Travolta came along and let the whole world know he doesn’t have a clue who she is.

(So much for those gay rumors! Am I right, members of his publicity team?)

Always a Dazeem, never a Streisand. For nearly 20 years, Idina Menzel has been poised to become the next big-haired, big-faced, gutsy, Midler-esque star (not that Bette is planning on going anywhere), famous to people who don’t keep every Playbill to every show they’ve ever seen in sort of a memento mori display in their spare bedroom. But somehow, it never quite happened. Even the Jews, who are usually so quick to embrace a pretty and successful daughter of Israel, no matter how tangential she may be, have all but ignored her.

And why is something of a mystery. She’s anchored the two biggest Broadway hits of the past 20 years, and still no one has offered her a movie where we see her face or a song via which we’d hear her on the radio. The Rent movie was released some nine years after the original and, to a post-Sept. 11, Bloombergian New York, about five after relevancy. (Even I, the most sympathetic of audiences, couldn’t help myself from wondering: Why do they think they shouldn’t have to pay their rent?) Her “celebrity” marriage—usually indicative of rising stock—was to her actual boyfriend, Taye Diggs, whose level of fame equally, and fatally, matched hers. (And they’ve split up now anyway.) Wicked is a massive hit and international money-printing machine, but it isn’t a movie yet; and the latest vogue for high-profile movie musicals has not been kind to actual stage stars: Producers would rather shoehorn a weak-voiced sylph like Amanda Seyfried into a coloratura role like Cosette than point the camera in the direction of someone with barrel chest, short neck, and enormous mouth that allows one to actually, confidently, hit that devilish B-flat at the end of “A Heart Full of Love,” and everybody’s too vain to even let someone who knows what they’re doing dub their voices.

But maybe all this is about to change, and perversely it could all be because of John Travolta’s blepharoplasty and the adverse effect he alleges it had on his vision of the Teleprompter. (Do we actually know what the long-term effects of Botox are? In 10 years, will everyone in Hollywood be wandering around, blind?) As the strippers sang in Gypsy, you gotta have a gimmick—and these days, that gimmick is a meme. The minute John Travolta mangled Menzel’s name, the Internet was set ablaze. Twitter was aghast; I counted 15 separate Adele Dazeem parody accounts on my feed in less than 10 minutes. People who would have looked at you blankly if you said the word “Elphaba” were suddenly scornful that anyone doesn’t know who Idina Menzel is. Menzel herself has been making the post-Oscar victory rounds, graciously forgiving Travolta in the press (“Let it go!”) and reliving her triumph with Jimmy Fallon, the Roots, and an orchestra of children’s instruments on a Tonight Show segment that’s already viral. She was almost famous before, and now she’s Internet famous, which increasingly is the only kind of famous there is. (Look at Benedict Cumberbatch. Two short years ago, he, like Menzel, was a semi-famous actor with an unusual face and a funny name; several million Cumberbitches later, he’s a full-fledged phenomenon who is also one of the most sought-after actors on any continent.)

Play her cards right and this time next year Menzel could be sitting pretty in her Malibu mansion with a shopping mall in the basement, ordering her servants to bring her platters of string cheese and Wheat Thins, as Lea Michele could be muttering dark incantations in a cave in Runyon Canyon, sticking pins into a doll with a witch’s hat and a green face.

And if she is, it will be at least in part due to good old Jorn Tromolto. Remember him when it’s time to cast the Wizard, won’t you?


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Rachel Shukert, a Tablet Magazine columnist on pop culture, is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great. Starstruck, the first in a series of three novels, is new from Random House. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.

Rachel Shukert is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great,and the novel Starstruck. She is the creator of the Netflix show The Baby-Sitters Club, and a writer on such series as GLOW and Supergirl. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.