CAMBRIDGE -- A few eyebrows were raised when Idina Menzel stepped onto the small Regattabar stage last night. In a pair of low-slung jeans, sporting a casual black T-shirt and ponytail, Menzel hardly looked like a typical jazz singer. That's because she's not a typical jazz singer. She's not a typical anything. For 90 minutes, Menzel demonstrated not just her vocal prowess, but also her storytelling skills, wit, and knack for musical improv. And none of it had anything to do with jazz.
Menzel is perhaps best known as the having earned a Tony last year for her portrayal of Elphaba -- that's the (green) Wicked Witch of the West to the uninitiated -- in the Broadway musical ''Wicked." She also originated the role of Maureen in ''Rent."
Menzel's performance started innocently enough with a funky rendition of ''Take Me or Leave Me" from ''Rent," but soon took a fearless and entirely more personal turn as Menzel folded in songs she had written, whether they be from her albums or tunes she and members of the band wrote just before the show. With each song, Menzel demonstrated her ability to deliver songs of varying styles and genres. She can belt and lilt with the best of them, mixing in a fair amount of colorful, even wicked, language as she goes.
In the song ''Penny," Menzel shows power, but with a touch of vulnerability. In an unnamed song written for her younger sister, Menzel honors her strayed-from Jewish faith with an urgency that churns as the song develops from a cappella prayer to a song with full accompaniment from the four-person band behind her.
A third of the performance was devoted to a madhouse medley of songs and stories depicting Menzel's turn as a wedding and bar mitzvah singer in the late '80s and early '90s. She manically flips back and forth from vocals to anecdotes in this high-energy section in which no overplayed wedding song is safe.
Menzel shares more than her voice in her concert; she shares parts of her own life. In an unguarded moment, Menzel offered that she is terrified to take her show to New York. It's true there is the occasional vocal or lyrical stumble in Menzel's performance right now, but there is nothing standing in the way of her continuing to succeed with this show.