Broadway always has its darling: Bette Midler, Ethel Merman, Sutton Foster, Bernadette Peters, Sarah Brightman, Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, and currently, Audra McDonald. When not singing or acting, she hosts “Live from the Lincoln Center,” one of PBS’s most watched programs.
Audra graduated from the Roosevelt School of the Arts then studied classical voice at Juilliard. She got her professional start in 1992 as Ayah in The Secret Garden. Further shows included Carrousel, Master Class, Something Wonderful, Ragtime, Marie Christine, Sweeney Todd, Dreamgirls, Passion, Henry IV, A Raisin in the Sun, The Seven Deadly Sins, Sunday in the Park with George, Wonderful Town, Anyone Can Sing, La Boix Humaine, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, 110 in the Shade, Twelfth Night, Porgy and Bess, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, A Moon for the Misbegotten, Shuffle Along, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, and Ohio State Murders.
What does one expect when going to listen to a six-time Tony Award winning, two-time Grammy, one Emmy, and National Medal of Arts recipient? In short, a spectacular display of range and talent — a tall order, if not an impossible feat.
This evening’s concert was far different than expected. At the beginning of the night, Audra informed us that it was the 16th anniversary of her father’s death, and she was going to give us the raw, unfiltered version of herself; something she felt she can do in the tri-state area. The audience was incredibly supportive during her personal moments.
What followed was about 50% dialogue and 50% songs from classic musicals. The set list and conversation followed three basic prompts. First, songs to honor black women who paved the road for her on Broadway. Second, songs that she felt are more timely now than ever (she spoke extensively on subjects of race, legislation, and identity). Third, songs meaningful to her life experience—the songs that reminded her of different moments and crucial people in her career.
This approach created an interesting playlist. While she sang some standards, like Summertime, I Could Have Danced All Night, and Before The Parade Passes By, many songs were more about the message than showcasing the wide range of her vocal talents. At this point in her career, she has earned the right to sing what she wants, and she could sing a crossword puzzle and make it sound good.
Her pianist Andy Einhorn played with gusto and followed her beautifully. In the encore he sang backup vocals brilliantly. He made her performance significantly better with his emotive, lively playing.
As always, NJPAC delivered on the concert experience with courteous staff, clean facilities, comfortable seats, and good acoustics.
For more information on upcoming performances in The American Song series at NJPAC, presented, in part, through the generous support of the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, the David S. Steiner and Sylvia Steiner Charitable Trust, the Joan and Allen Bildner Family Fund, and the Smart Family Foundation/David S. Stone, Esq., Stone & Magnanin, you can visit NJPAC.org.