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‘An immersive, immediate experience’: Idina Menzel to star in musical ‘Redwood’ at La Jolla Playhouse

Idina Menzel will star in "Redwood," a world-premiere musical, at La Jolla Playhouse in February and March 2024.
Tony Award winner Idina Menzel will star in “Redwood,” a world-premiere musical by Tina Landau and Kate Diaz, at La Jolla Playhouse in February and March 2024.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

The star of ‘Wicked’ and ‘Frozen’ discusses the world-premiere production, collaborators Tina Landau and Kate Diaz and her love of California’s redwood forest.

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Idina Menzel, the Tony-winning star of “Wicked” and vocal powerhouse behind Elsa in Disney’s animated “Frozen,” will star in “Redwood,” a world-premiere musical that will close La Jolla Playhouse’s 2023-24 season in February and March next year.

“Redwood” will feature a book, lyrics and direction by Tina Landau and score and lyrics by Kate Diaz.

The musical will tell the story of Jesse, a successful businesswoman, mother and wife who is hiding a broken heart. Finding herself at a turning point, she leaves everything behind and drives to the West Coast, where she ends up in California’s redwood forest and finds community and healing. Christopher Ashley, the playhouse’s artistic director, said in a statement that the musical “overflows with invention, inspiration and empathy.”

Menzel has been a star since making her Broadway debut in 1996 as performance artist Maureen in “Rent.” In 2003 she became a superstar as the high-flying green-skinned witch Elphaba in “Wicked.”

Besides her Broadway work, Menzel has worked in television and film and is a songwriter.

Diaz is a prolific Los Angeles composer, songwriter and producer who writes music for film, television, trailers and commercials.

Landau is a writer and director who conceived and directed the 2018 Broadway musical “SpongeBob SquarePants.” She also co-wrote with composer Adam Guettel the off-Broadway musical “Floyd Collins,” which had a production at San Diego’s Old Globe in 1999. La Jolla Playhouse also premiered Landau’s fairy-tale-inspired play “Beauty” in 2003.

The playhouse’s season begins in June and will include Anna Deavere Smith’s tennis-themed play “Love All”; Jenn Freeman, Sonya Tayeh and Holland Andrews’ dance-infused piece about neurodiversity “Is It Thursday Yet?”; Joe Iconis and Gregory Moss’ “The Untitled Unauthorized Hunter S. Thompson Musical”: Lisa Sanaye Dring’s wrestling-themed play “Sumo”; and “Babbitt,” Joe DiPietro’s adaptation of the Sinclair Lewis novel, featuring film and Broadway star Matthew Broderick.

For more on the season, visit lajollaplayhouse.org.

In an email interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune, Menzel discussed “Redwood” and her collaborations with Landau and Diaz.

Q. You’re probably courted to do new musicals all the time. Why did this one speak to you?

A. Tina and I have been dreaming up a version of this show for many years now. It is original, unique and embodies everything that is important to me in musical theater. It’s an opportunity to play a character I don’t think we’ve seen before but we all know very well, and it’s a different kind of story told in a unique way.

Q. You and Kate Diaz co-wrote the title song for the 2022 HBO documentary “A Tree of Life: The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting.” How do you like collaborating with her?

A. Kate is our composer. Her music is epic and cinematic as well as intimate, well-crafted songwriting. Soaring melodies or little prayers. All of it feels instinctual to me and yet I’m challenged and finding new ways to use my voice and access the soul of this character.

Q. You’ve also worked in the past with Tina Landau. Is this a role she wrote for you? And how long has this project been in development?

A. I’ve wanted to work with Tina for as long as I can remember. She’s always understood me and I’m comfortable taking risks around her. I trust she will always be honest and challenge me while always having my back. That’s what great directors do. Tina and I share a love and fascination for the redwoods. There is a humility and reverence that comes when standing at the foot of these ancient giants. Through the years, our idea of what the piece should be has evolved as we have evolved. It’s very personal for us. We intend on making this an immersive, immediate experience. A story where the audience will experience Jesse’s intimate personal journey as well as the grand scale of the redwoods. It’s about connection with nature and each other.

Q. What attracted you to the role of Jesse in “Redwood”? Is there something about her flight to California’s redwood forest to rediscover herself a journey that intrigues you?

A. I’m always drawn to characters who are fighters. Jesse is someone who has experienced a heartbreaking loss who finds new life and purpose. ◆