[DOC NYC 2022] IDINA MENZEL: WHICH WAY TO THE STAGE? -- A Pleasant Yet Seemingly Corporate-Mandated Biography
Review by Sean Boelman
One would be hard-pressed to find a Broadway star more recognizable to general audiences than Idina Menzel, so it’s definitely not surprising that she is a subject of a new documentary to stream on Disney+. Offering a cursory glimpse at the career of the extraordinarily talented actress, Idina Menzel: Which Way to the Stage? is a mostly unexceptional biography.
The film tells the story of beloved actress of stage and screen, Idina Menzel, as she works towards the goal of her dreams: a concert in which she is headlining at Madison Square Garden. As one of the most recognizable theater actresses working right now, plenty of people know who Menzel is, but unfortunately, it doesn’t offer the glimpse behind the curtain the film would have needed to be great.
Director Anne McCabe attempts to make Menzel feel more relatable, but it is so caught up in the adulation that many fans have for her that it does not end up making her feel particularly grounded. Even the attempts at doing so — such as a sequence discussing the many mispronunciations of her name — come across as slightly out of touch rather than helpful.
The film does spend a disappointingly long time exploring the Frozen portion of Menzel’s career. While this shouldn’t be surprising considering that this is a documentary that will be put out by Disney+, and much of the latter part of her career, it seems as if Menzel was owned by Disney. However, this is also the part of her story that more people know, so it would have been nice to see more of her early career discussed.
Indeed, as Menzel’s career is so impressive and storied, there is arguably too much here for an hour and a half, especially given that much of it seems Disney-mandated. Although the film does discuss Menzel’s stints on RENT and Wicked, a longer runtime would have allowed it to go into much more depth on these parts of her life.
That said, Menzel is primarily known as a musical talent, and her vocal skills are certainly on display here. Being that the documentary is distributed by Disney, the filmmakers had access to a great deal of archived performance footage, allowing them to showcase her skills while singing many of her most recognizable songs.
McCabe is a very prolific editor, having worked on several high-profile and highly-acclaimed films in that capacity, but this is her first outing as a director. Given her background, the film is understandably more reliant on archive footage than it is on talking heads, making it a refreshing change in the sea of biographical documentaries.
Idina Menzel: Which Way to the Stage? is strong in terms of production, but it ends up feeling more like a corporate advertisement for one of the company’s biggest stars than a genuine biography. It’s really not clear who’s going to get much out of this, but it’s inoffensive enough.
Idina Menzel: Which Way to the Stage? screened as part of the 2022 edition of DOC NYC, which runs in-person from November 9-17 and online November 9-27.