Menzel belted out numbers from "Chess" and "Rent" and "Wicked" ("Defying Gravity" was definitely the evening's highlight), plus some songs from her new album, and in between bantered about her soul-crushing early days singing at bar mitzvahs and about her mortifying night at the Kennedy Center Honors, where she met idols Barbra Streisand and Aretha Franklin and they were confused about who she was. (Streisand: "You were good. Did you sing 'Don't Rain on My Parade'? I wasn't wearing my glasses.") As the wise and sage-like Randy Jackson wold say, she could sing the phone book and it would always be molten-lava hot.
In other notable moments from day one (not counting Richard Belzer throwing dirt on NBC's grave):
• Menzel's performance was preceded by a Q&A with "Chess" lyricist Sir Tim Rice, who talked at length about how he wound up teaming with the guys from Abba to write the score, the disastrous Broadway run of the show in the '80s, and how frequent partner Andrew Lloyd Weber has grown to hate "Chess" because every actress seems to pick a number from it as an audition song because they think it's so obscure that they'll stand out. Rice is very smart, a good storyteller and has that rare gift of being able to talk about how great his work is without sounding especially pompous.
• Amy Sedaris was here to talk about her role as the narrator of the six-part "Make 'Em Laugh" documentary on the history of comedy, and to talk about about appearing in a companion web series about online comedy. The webisodes inspired a lot of questions about Sedaris' own interest in doing things online, which led Sedaris to confess -- to a roomful of reporters frantically blogging and Twittering on their laptops and iPhones -- that she's a Luddite who prefers to read things in print or not at all. After a few questions in this vein, she decided it was time to riff:
I got a computer maybe four years ago because I have a rabbit and the rabbit got sick. It was too late to call the House Rabbit Society, so I thought I better get a computer because the next time she gets sick, I’ll be able to go on Ether Bunny and find out what’s going on. Then I got iChat because I can just hold my rabbit up, call the House Rabbit Society and say, “Do you see this scab? What does it mean?” And then they can see it. See, I’m getting there.Maybe you had to be there.