The amazing vocal talent of Audra McDonald was a like a breath of the most enchanting spring air and perhaps the first real sign of spring in the DC area as Audra sang from the “Great American Song Book” at The Music Center at Strathmore on Friday evening to an adoring sold-out crowd. Like a flutter of the loveliest songbird you can imagine, Audra McDonald’s beautiful operatic soprano voice is an over-the-top musical experience. It’s easy to see how she’s won a record breaking six Tony Awards. Musical performance doesn’t get any better than a concert presenting Audra McDonald.
The evening had an eclectic theme of happy songs, love, and inspirational songs and just plain fun tunes from great American lyricists and song writers such as Rodgers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Kander and Ebb, Jason Robert Brown, Stephen Sondheim, the Gershwins, and Jules Stein among others.
Opening with the delightful “Sing Happy” from Flora and the Red Menace, the play list was a trip down Broadway memory lane performed by one of Broadway’s finest. “Make Someone Happy” was also a crowd pleaser and yesteryear favorite.
Audra McDonald is a charming, chatty griot who tells wonderful personal stories and how they influence the “slightly off the beaten path” songs she chooses to sing. When she sang “My Buddy,” she talked about an old World War II veteran she met outside her “office”, the local Chipotle, (she’s got a fun sense of humor), who has been singing this song on the street corner for many years. She decided to include it in her repertoire to honor all vets.
The ebb and flow of love was also in the air in Cole Porter’s “Let’s Not Talk about Love” and “Maybe This Time” from Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret, unforgettable show tunes that Audra presented with smoldering passion. Two fun tunes were “Baltimore” and the tongue-twisting “I Can’t Stop Talking about Him” that were hilarious and showcased Audra’s wonderful sense of comedy through song. She took us to the heights with the inspirational “Climb Every Mountain”, sharing tid bits and details about the presentation of NBC’s The Sound of Music Live! and her role as Mother Abbess. “Stars and Moon” by Jason Robert Brown was another inspiring song that highlighted the emotional depth that Audra brings to her work. She literally inhabits every song she sings.
It’s hard to say if there was a high point to the evening because every song was so special. There were so many wonderful moments as she sang tunes from musical favorites. She won a Tony for her portrayal of Bess in Porgy and Bess and her stirring rendition of “Summertime” merited a standing ovation.
“I Could Have Danced All Night” was a tribute to Julie Andrews as well as audience sing-along as Audra coaxed a not-too-reluctant crowd to sing our hearts out along with her. “Go Back Home” was a poignant tale of a tune from The Scottsboro Boys with a slower tempo and deeper mood.
Andy Einhorn, Audra McDonald’s longtime pianist and musical director, with David Phillips on bass and Gene Lewin on drum provided smooth accompaniment. They all played the ukulele, too! It was great to hear musical backup that knows how to compliment the performer and doesn’t overpower the singer. They made a great musical team. On second thought, it might be hard to overpower the booming chops of the splendiferous Audra McDonald!
Her talent is prodigious to say the least. Performance credits include consummate concert artist, television and film actress, and musical and dramatic stage star. Julliard-trained, Audra McDonald has done them all and won numerous theatrical awards and nominations including the Emmy and the Grammy in addition to being the only person to win Tonys in all four acting categories. In 2014, Audra won the Tony for Outstanding Actress in a Musical for her stellar performance as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill. It was a bit of a letdown that Audra didn’t sing any songs from her most recent smash-hit show.
“Over the Rainbow” was the heartfelt encore Audra sang not only in tribute to Judy Garland but also as an ardent proponent of marriage equality. And one wonders how she also finds the time to serve on the boards of Covenant House and Broadway Impact in support of homeless youth.
Audra McDonald is a truly remarkable performer. Thank you, Strathmore, for giving us this joyous spring concert treat.
Running Time: One hour and 50 minutes, with no intermission
Audra McDonald’s website.