Posted by: operatheaterink | October 28, 2013

Review: Audra McDonald Concert, Los Angeles Opera, Oct. 28, 2013

If Audra McDonald comes to your city on tour — run, don’t walk, to see her!

Audra McDonald

Photo: Robert Millard


By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

Words cannot express my elation as I rose to applaud the phenomenal Audra McDonald at the conclusion of her one-night concert in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Oct. 26. A friend of Los Angeles Opera, she gave a most impressive performance as Jenny Smith in the company’s “Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny” in 2007. But this one-woman nightclub cabaret act and concert proved her to be one of the greatest performers in recent history in her chosen field. McDonald sings art songs and show music with equal finesse, and she has a classically-trained instrument that can sing opera as well.

I frankly haven’t been this excited about a performer since I saw Barbra Streisand in her first concert in LA at the Cocoanut Grove. I was only 17 then and studying voice. Then came Cecilia Bartoli much later. Bartoli’s coloratura acrobatics, artistry and energy always leave me breathless.

I wasn’t expecting such a reaction to Audra McDonald, though, but after seeing so many fine singers who have very little stage presence, and so many fine actors who attempt to sing with inadequate voices — point blank: Audra McDonald blew me away.

She navigates the passaggio to perfection. How do you maintain one voice from bottom to top? And even if you can do it, how do you mix head with chest to meet the demands of the quality required of each song? A little more of this; a little more of that: Audra McDonald has it down pat. She can sing soprano or mezzo with head. She can mix middle tones with chest. She can even belt. But there is always a bit of head in her chest to make the transitions flow. It may seem easy, but very few Broadway singers can do it, and even opera singers have to learn.

Because of McDonald’s classical training and versatile voice, she can sing any genre of her choosing. Couple that with her onstage presence, and you have a performer who brought almost every single person in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to their feet.

McDonald was celebrating the release of her new album, “Go Back Home.” As she spoke to the audience, we learned that she was also sharing information about her new marriage; motherhood; memories of her father, 9/11, the civil rights movement; and she concluded with a tribute to Judy Garland.

She explained to the audience what each song meant to her, beginning with Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock’s “When Did I Fall in Love” from “Fiorello.” Then she sang Jason Robert Brown’s “Stars and the Moon,” which became a morality play that rendered the advice of a wise sage. Fill yourself with the riches of life. Don’t be misled by superficiality or you’ll never have the moon.

She sang the popular Gus Kahn-Walter Donaldson standard “My Buddy,” Irving Berlin’s “Moonshine Lullaby” from “Annie Get Your Gun,” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Moments in the Woods” from “Into the Woods,” per a recommendation to her by the composer. She flirted coquettishly during Jimmy Eaton’s vaudeville-flavored “I Double Dare You” and sang a humorous rendition of Zina Goldrich’s “Baltimore,” with clever lyrics by Marcy Heisler. The song is a quick course on dating. Ladies: Be leery of men.

Then McDonald became more serious as she described her father’s advice to her before perishing in an airplane crash. She had never wanted to play the piano onstage. So her father advised her to confront her fears. In his memory, she accompanied herself while expressively singing Adam Guettel’s “Migratory V.” I think we all had a feeling of pride at that moment, as if her father was looking down upon her.

Then a bit of Lerner and Loewe’s “I Could Have Danced All Night” with an audience sing-along; a couple of lullabies; and essentially a patter song by Frank Loesser that was sung by Betty Hutton in the film, “Let’s Dance.” When singing “Can’t Stop Talking About Him,” McDonald never ceased to stop talking about him, and the three-piece combo under the direction of Andy Einhorn got into the act as well. McDonald enunciated each letter and word meticulously because each of her songs tells a story that must be clearly understood.

The lyrics to her “Craigslistlieder” made us smile. But the story of “The Scottsboro Boys” sobered us up: a terrible civil rights injustice put to music by Fred Ebb and John Kander. “Go Back Home,” the title of McDonald’s album, was sung with heartfelt expressivity and tone coloring followed by Adam Gwon’s moving “I’ll Be Here”: the story of love, loss and moving on.

She made us more thoughtful with Styne, Comden and Green’s “Make Someone Happy.” And she concluded the program with Steve Marzullo’s “Some Days,” set to a poem by James Baldwin. Each day can be a challenge, but the unknown of the next day is what makes life worth living.

Then after a brief applause, the audience rose in excitement. What an evening. McDonald was vibrant, human, philosophical, funny, moving, and she sang with a splendrous colorful sound that was somewhere in between totally classical and totally Broadway.

She sang George Gershwin’s “Summertime” as an encore followed by a tribute to Judy Garland with Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow.” She referred to Garland’s death in 1969, which led to a party in her memory that was raided and began the gay rights movement. Of course Garland brought the multi-talented songwriter-entertainer Peter Allen to the United States, who was married to Garland’s daughter, Liza Minnelli, and who later revealed his homosexuality. What a great talent he was. I reflected on him as I listened to McDonald, and was glad to have seen Allen perform and commemorate his mentor.

As I was walking out of the Pavilion, I heard a man say that the songs he had heard were sung differently than he had remembered. McDonald’s “Summertime” had a slight jazz-like quality. Her “Over the Rainbow” was more contemplative than Garland’s.

McDonald had made the evening her own with arrangements that worked for her. It was her concert. She was in the light, and she was luminous. Run, don’t walk, if you have the opportunity to hear her.

Music Director/Piano: Andy Einhorn
Bass: Mark Vanderpoel
Drums: Gene Lewin