Get to know Idina Menzel, the award-winning actress and singer who will deliver the 2023 Penn Commencement speech on May 15.
1. She is nicknamed the “Queen of Broadway.”
Known for her mainstream success in musical theatre, Menzel has been nicknamed the “Queen of Broadway” in honor of her achievements on the stage.
She rose to fame in 1996 when she landed the role of Maureen in the Broadway sensation “Rent,” a performance that earned her a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.
Her career took off when she originated the role of Elphaba in “Wicked” in 2003. Starring alongside Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda, Menzel gave a performance that earned her the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical. Still running, “Wicked” remains among the highest-grossing Broadway shows of all time.
Other notable theatre credentials include a 2014 performance as Elizabeth in “If/Then” and the lead role in the Off-Broadway production of Joshua Harmon’s “Skintight” in 2018.
Menzel’s accomplishments extend beyond the stage. She has been featured in several television shows and films, where she’s best known for playing Shelby Corcoran in “Glee” and Elsa in the “Frozen” franchise.
Menzel is also a successful recording artist, releasing six studio albums. Her 2014 album “Holiday Wishes” peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Top 100.
2. She has made history on the Billboard Hot 100.
When “Let It Go,” the smash hit that Menzel sang for the first “Frozen” movie, rose in popularity, reaching No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, she became the first person to ever have both a Billboard Hot 10 hit and a Tony Award.
Her other accolades span across music, film, and theatre, including an American Music Award, a Billboard Music Award, as well as nominations for three Drama League Awards and four Drama Desk Awards. In 2019, she was also awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contributions to musical theatre.
3. She seeks to combine her passion for the arts with philanthropy.
After noting that financial disparities often prevent young girls from attending summer camp, Menzel sought to expand access to such opportunities. In 2010, she joined forces with fellow stage actor Taye Diggs to found A BroaderWay Foundation.
The organization collaborates with other artists, activists, and social workers with the goal of “amplifying the power of young women and gender expansive youth through the arts” and developing future leaders.
Through partnerships with New York City charter schools, after-school programs, and individuals, the group is able to offer a summer musical theatre camp in the Berkshires and a school year program of workshops, performances and social gatherings to students.
4. She has her own clothing line.
In June 2022, Menzel launched a clothing collection with QVC called “Encore by Idina Menzel.”
Seeking inspiration from her busy life as a singer, actor, songwriter and mom, the collection is designed to allow easy and seamless transitions from one activity to the next. Wearers can transition the outfit pieces from a day to an evening look with a quick shoe or accessory change.
"My closet has always been this anxiety-provoking place," Menzel told Good Morning America. "I did this out of a necessity to help myself and other women take the stress out of getting ready in the morning."
5. She writes children's books.
In 2022, Menzel teamed up with her sister, writer and teacher Cara Mentzel, to create a picture book.
Titled “Loud Mouse,” the book is a lyrical illustrated story about a mouse finding her voice designed to teach children about bravery.
The sisters reportedly drew inspiration from their own lives. Menzel told Fox News that she felt “conflicted about how much space to take up” and “how much attention” she should seek out as a young girl.
The book came as a result of "delving into my experience as a young girl, having this big voice and knowing that I had something deep down, I had something special to offer," Menzel said.