Returning to the DC area, Audra McDonald gave a concert at Strathmore on May 26, 2017, full of her signature charm and joy. Her powerhouse soprano that transitions smoothly and easily between Broadway and opera entranced all those who attended, while McDonald’s quick humor and down-to-earth, intimate attitude made the concert seem like a gathering of friends.
McDonald is a veteran Broadway performer, having won 6 Tony Awards for performances in Porgy and Bess and Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill (a show which she will soon take to London). Yet millions of other fans know her from her film and TV performances (including Beauty and the Beast, Private Practice and The Sound of Music). She has done numerous concerts and cabarets all across the country and was honored in 2013 as Musical America‘s “Musician of the Year. McDonald is also a passionate and tireless advocate for equal rights, underprivileged youth, and LGBTQ causes.
The concert opened with the lovely “When Did I Fall In Love,” from the musical Fiorello. While the song is clearly an old familiar friend, McDonald’s dedication to acting the song, rather than just singing it, prevented it from seeming worn or tired. Indeed, part of the charm of watching McDonald perform is in watching how she acts each song, whether acting a proud, yet vulnerable young girl missing her mother (“Glamorous Life”) or the woman coming to know herself (“Stars and the Moon,”) among others. She always finds the story in the song, sometimes sacrificing vocal beauty to find the emotional center and heart, which only makes her more authentic and more enchanting to listen to.
Of course it’s glorious to hear McDonald sing some of the musical theatre standards that she’s known for, including a warm and sultry “Summertime” and a strong, encouraging “Climb Every Mountain.” That clear, pure voice and operatic overtones—there’s a reason McDonald has received the most Tony Awards of any Broadway performer.
McDonald’s humor and candidness were also highlights of the night, as she shared stories of forgetting lyrics to a Stephen Sondheim song, at a gala honoring Stephen Sondheim, or how she can tap-dance to get her baby daughter to fall asleep. Her honesty and authenticity was clearly evident as she shared her mantra for life in song (a delightfully sincere and clear “Make Someone Happy”), and when she complimented a young girl on her voice after the sing-along portion of the night (“I Could Have Danced All Night) and offering her words of encouragement to pursue her dreams.
McDonald ended the night with a beautifully sweet and simple rendition of “Over the Rainbow,” and sent everyone out into the night, encouraging the audience to do random acts of kindness and propagate love and hope and light into the world. A lovely end to a wonderful concert.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Audra McDonald played for one-night-only on Friday, May 26, 2017, at The Music Center at Strathmore – 5301 Tuckerman Lane, in North Bethesda, MD. For tickets to future events call (301) 581-5100, or go to their calendar of events.