When Sarah Elizabeth Smith took the microphone following a performance of Broadway's If/Then on Saturday night, it's hard to tell who was more surprised: Smith, whose family had just won a charity auction to get her onstage, or the show's star, Idina Menzel, when Smith brought down the house.
Smith, a favorite on the DFW musical theater scene, has won a steady stream of praise for her roles around town, from a bubbly turn in WaterTower Theatre's Putting It Together to the cross-dressing title role in The Mystery of Edwin Drood at Pfamily Arts to her deliciously bitchy fashion designer in the recent staged reading of A Taste of Beauty.
Menzel — or, as some know her after John Travolta's famously mangled Oscar introduction, Adele Dazeem — is the sensational voice behind the character of Elsa in Disney's Frozen, as well as the originator of such iconic Broadway roles as Elphaba in Wicked and Maureen in Rent. It was a duet from Rent called "Take Me or Leave Me" that was up for grabs after the evening's performance, as an auction prize to help raise funds for the charity Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
CultureMap emailed Smith to get her reaction to the once-in-a-lifetime experience, which has thus far garnered nearly 11,000 views on YouTube (she begins singing around the three-minute mark) and an avalanche of positive feedback. Here's her reply:
I am a huge fan of Rent, and of course a huge fan of Idina Menzel, so when my dad began bidding on my behalf, I could barely believe it. My family is incredibly supportive and wonderful, so without really even talking about it, they knew this would be an incredible gift to me.
The bidding got up to $2,300, and it was really only my father (Al Smith) and another man (Jim Brock, bidding on behalf of his daughter, Blythe) who were involved. Anthony Rapp suggested that both my father and this other man pay $2,300 and share the reward of singing with Idina Menzel. We agreed and headed up to the stage, guided by stage managers.
Before I knew it, I was holding a lyric sheet and a microphone and walked onto the stage in front of a Broadway audience, surrounded by a Broadway cast. The whole thing was so surreal that I don't have actual memory of a lot of it. When I watched the video that my sister, Rachel, captured, I saw moments that hadn't even registered when they were happening. Blythe and I kept looking at each other in disbelief. We were sharing a moment that we would remember for the rest of our lives.
It was lucky that I already knew the song really well. I had performed it on multiple occasions in college (Baylor University) with my friend Hannah Brake. So when it came time for me to sing, I wasn't worried about singing the right words. I could just focus on having fun and enjoying the experience.
Everyone in the cast and crew was so gracious and complimentary. They truly are a lovely group of people. I even got a hug from Michael Greif, the legendary Broadway director (who not only directed If/Then, but also Rent on Broadway and my all-time favorite musical, Next to Normal).
After the song, we got to have a look backstage and talk to several members of the cast, including Anthony Rapp, who was very kind to us. We went out the stage door where the cast exits, and the people waiting to greet the actual cast greeted us too, which was surreal.
My family and I waited for Idina Menzel to exit the stage door, and when she did, her assistant spotted me and told me to come to the other side of the barricade. I got to speak with Idina and get a picture with her. She was very kind to let me do that.
I have received a lot of positive feedback from the cast, audience members and now people online, but I want to make sure for myself that none of that kind of attention overshadows the wonderful organization that the auction was for: Broadway Cares, which funds the social service work of The Actors Fund and award grants to AIDS service organizations nationwide.