Whitney Houston is dead. Josh Groban is lame. Holiday Mariah is, apparently, out of commission. Seems we'll have to make due with Idina Menzel, the Broadway Bully, whose 2014 collection of Christmastime covers betrays no hint that she's actually Jewish, just like the baby king Jesus himself. At least Babs gave us Yentl. Menzel's "Silent Night" just put me to sleep.
For those unaware: Idina Menzel is the Broadway musical darling who does vaguely seem like she's a big sister to Glee's Lea Michele. Menzel has starred most notably in Rent (1996), in which she played a radical lesbian, and Wicked (2003), in which she played a radical witch. A high-wattage stage player by trade, Menzel sings more powerfully than Barbra Streisand, who inaugurated this grand tradition of quirky dramatists singing about Christmas. In that spirited tradition, Idina Menzel is a natural heir, what, with her Broadway bona fides and seasonal accompli as seiyuu and singer of the year's biggest Disney record, "Let It Go" from the Frozen soundtrack.
On Holiday Wishes, however, Menzel is cast as a soothing balladist in a grey, hazy sense, her voice no more or less prominent than the strings and piano that back her. Short of either pop bombast or else tender R&B theatrics, Holiday Wishes suffers from a lack of sentimentality, of real passion for the season.
Menzel makes conservative work of "Silent Night" and "White Christmas," two passable renditions with minimal vocal signature and no risk. With the album's older standards—"When You Wish Upon a Star," for instance—Menzel and the orchestra yield sap (and little else) in kilograms. Exertion is rare and, alas, unfulfilling: Menzel's strain to out-dramatize Mariah Carey in a rendition of "All I Want for Christmas Is You" is undercut by the band's goofball ethic and slue-foot bassline.
On an album that lulls along, Menzel's charismatic rendition of "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" is a wonderful spike, with styling as jaded and sly as Menzel's protagonists tend to be. Likewise, Menzel's take on Joni Mitchell's "River" streams like a first-act, coming-of-age daydream that's rather Menzel's forte: "I wish I had a river so long, I would teach my feet to fly/Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on: I made my baby cry." Holiday Wishes isn't quite naughty overall, however, nor is Menzel particularly nice with it. "Do You Hear What I Hear," the album's opening carol, isn't as lofty as the presence of a backing choir typically suggests. Menzel is singing to a cozy lounge. She's no Ariana Grande.