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Idina Menzel makes Midler’s ‘Beaches’ role her own

Singer-actress Bette Midler sings the Grammy-winning song “Wind Beneath My Wings” during a memorial service in Boston on Sept. 26, 2001.
Singer-actress Bette Midler sings the Grammy-winning song “Wind Beneath My Wings” during a memorial service in Boston on Sept. 26, 2001. AP

A Beaches remake? Isn’t that unnecessary?

The stars of the original, Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey, and the director, Garry Marshall, pretty much nailed it back in 1988.

But Lifetime has made a new version of Beaches that premieres at 7 p.m. Saturday. It’s so similar to the original that even the Grammy-winning theme song, Wind Beneath My Wings, makes its return.

Why do it?

Idina Menzel, who stars in the new movie opposite Nia Long, asked herself that very question.

“I saw the movie back in high school with two of my best friends,” Menzel says. “We cried our eyes out in the movie theater, so it’s quite a nostalgic memory for me. I think it’s a beautiful, beautiful movie and Bette Midler, for me, was an idol my whole life. I continue to be inspired by her.

“So it’s a daunting task. If I’m being completely honest, I was terrified to do it at first. But as a performer, you look at a role and you see where you can learn and ... exercise your talents and your craft.

“No pun intended, but I felt like I could spread my wings in this role. So after saying no to myself 12 times, I finally dove into it.”

There are many reasons to watch the remake, but Menzel is the main one.

This Tony Award-winning treasure — who originated Broadway roles in Rent, Wicked and If/Then, and who also was the voice of Elsa in Disney’s Frozen, singing the Oscar-winning song Let It Go — has been called “the Streisand of her generation.”

Menzel released her fifth studio album, idina, last fall. She will embark on an international concert tour in March that includes Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie on July 30.

In Beaches, as C.C. Bloom, the role Midler played, she is a force of nature.

The movie is about two women and their lifelong friendship after meeting as kids. C.C. is an aspiring entertainer who, after years of struggling, hits the big time. Hillary Whitney, played by Hershey in the original, by Long in this version, grows up to become a lawyer and single mother.

They have ups and downs in their lives. They go long stretches in which one is too busy for the other or they’re mad at one another. But the bond they formed as kids is ultimately unbreakable.

Theirs is a touching story of love that is timeless.

Yet, as Menzel has come to realize, people have short memories. What’s hot today is history tomorrow. (This epiphany came to her after hearing her young niece say, “Julia Roberts? Who’s that?”)

“I realized that there is a whole young generation of kids that have not seen Beaches,” Menzel says. “We can bring people to it. We can open a new discussion at this time about where women are and how we balance and navigate all these passions we have, our careers, our families.”

In Beaches, Menzel puts her own spin on Wind Beneath My Wings and The Glory of Love, songs that Midler sang so marvelously in the original.

“I have been singing Wind Beneath My Wings my whole life, ever since I was a wedding singer and bar mitzvah singer,” she says. “Every single 13-year-old boy danced with his mother to that song. So I am well-rehearsed.”

She also recorded a beautiful new song, called Last Time, that’s sure to become one of her standards in concert.

It’s not just the music that makes the film memorable, however. Performances from Menzel and Long are top-notch.

It’s also a subtle yet significant change that Hillary in the new Beaches is played by an African-American actress. Not once is race mentioned in the movie. It’s as if the filmmakers are making a statement by making no statement at all. “I don’t think it’s necessary,” Long says.

The two are totally believable as BFFs.

The lifelong friendship of Beaches is something that Menzel completely identified with.

“My best friend, I met her in the first year of college at NYU,” Menzel says. “We were roommates. She is the most honest and direct woman that I know and she never blows smoke. We know each other 100 percent. We know our flaws, our shortcomings, our strengths. We’ve grown together.

“Some years we seem to grow closer. Some years our lives take us on other paths. But we always come back. We can always pick up the phone.

“I know that whatever happens in my life, if I need her, she’ll be there.”

Beaches

  • 7 p.m. Saturday
  • Lifetime

 

Idina Menzel in concert

  • July 30
  • Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie
  • Tickets go on sale Jan. 27 at axs.com
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