Skip to main content

The Thrills Are Alive With the Sound of Audra

During her one-night-only concert this past Saturday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion awesome Audra McDonald revealed herself as not only possessing a stellar soprano voice, but also a sparkling wit, winning personality and a strong social consciousness and conscience. This was the first time Audra was back at L.A. Opera since co-starring with Patti LuPone in Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, which had bowled this critic over in 2007.

Audra_1

The actress/singer’s repertoire during her two-hour songfest was, as she put it, “a hodgepodge of musical theater,” ranging from “1927 to 2011.” Accompanied by a trio on a stage flanked by large vases full of colorful flowers, Audra performed standards by masters of Broadway show tunes; songs from movie classics; as well as numbers by relative newcomers still carving out a space for themselves on the Great White Way and elsewhere in the musical world. In the first category the five-time Tony winner regaled the nearly sold out throng with spirited renditions of, among other theater-derived works, Irving Berlin’s “Moonshine Lullaby” from Annie Get Your Gun; Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner’s “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady; and Stephen Sondheim’s“Moments in the Woods” from Into the Woods.

In terms of film scores, Audra, who is a mother of three, sang Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace’s “Baby Mine” from the Disney animated feature Dumbo. Her other pieces by lesser known, up and coming composers/ lyricists displayed a great sense of humor, in terms of not only content but McDonald’s delivery, too. Gabriel Kahane combined Craigslist classified online ads with the rarefied genre of German art songs for solo voice and piano called Lieder, and the result as rendered by La Audra was a deliciously droll concoction called Craigslistlieder. And her version of a song about a dad warning his daughter to avoid dating certain types of men -- including “navel gazing actors” -- called “Baltimore” had the aud in proverbial stitches, with Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich’s witty lyrics that could arguably give Cole Porter a run for his money.

McDonald’s banter with the audience and pianist/music director Andy Einhorn, bassist Mark Vanderpoel and percussionist Gene Lewin -- who she jokingly referred to as “my white boys” -- was likewise lighthearted. Early in the concert she advised ticket buyers who wanted to sing along as she held forth: “Don’t you dare -- this is my concert!” Later, when Audra did ask the audience to join her in song, at one point she good naturedly warned: “Shut up! This is my solo!” Audra also complimented the appreciative aud for getting the joke from an old tune Woody Allen used for the score of his Radio Days film, which includes these immortal lyrics: “Half aloof is better than none.”

The statuesque two-time Grammy Award winner, clad in a full length black gown striped with golden bands, also showed she has a romantic sensibility in songs such as Frank Loesser’s “Can’t Stop Talking About Him” from Let’s Dance, which was a 1950 movie starring Fred Astaire and Betty Hutton. She also has a philosophical side, performing Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s “Make Someone Happy” from Do Re Mi as a sort of credo Audra introduced by urging audience members to “love one another.” In this more wistful, reflective mood McDonald tickled the ivories herself in honor of her father, a pilot who died a few years ago in a plane crash (as she explained), accompanying herself as she sang Cabaret co-creators John Kander and Fred Ebb’s “Go Back Home” (which is also the name of her first album in seven years, released on the Nonesuch Records label) from The Scottsboro Boys.

Audra_2

McDonald took the time to explain to the audience who the Scottsboro Nine were -- African American youths wrongfully accused of and incarcerated for allegedly raping two white women during the 1930s, one of Depression era America’s greatest cause célèbres. She went on to rather boldly defend same sex marriage from the stage, declaring “I am a beneficiary of the Civil Rights movement,” and strongly defending equal rights for all, to much applause.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended for You

Pronouncing herself to be a fan of Judy Garland, Audra stated that after Judy’s untimely death in 1969, some of her gay fans were holding a party to honor her in Greenwich Village, when the police raided the bar -- which was called Stonewall. Saying that this “Stonewall Riot” was the start of the gay rights movement, during her encore McDonald serenaded her enraptured listeners with Garland’s signature tune: “Over the Rainbow” by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg. (What Audra did not say is that Harburg was a socialist who was later blacklisted.)

AudraMcDonald3

In any case, during her two-song encore for we enchanted Angelenos, the multi-talented singer and actress demonstrated yet another gift: Mind reading, because she read this reviewer’s thoughts and performed that song this reviewer most wanted to hear pass from her lips: “Summertime”, from The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, for which Audra won her first leading actress Tony in 2012. She even surpassed the rendition by my teenage idol, Janis Joplin, and when Audra sang “So hush little baby don’t you cry” it was all your critic could do to prevent himself from weeping.

Next up for Audra McDonald is a co-starring role as the Mother Abbess in a live NBC-TV broadcast on December 5 of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s beloved antifascist classic The Sound of Music. Her one-night-only gig at the Dorothy Chandler marked the Los Angeles leg of her four-month, 22-city North American tour. By the time of her standing ovation during the L.A. Opera curtain call it’s safe to bet that, to paraphrase Porgy, most of her fans felt like exclaiming: “Audra, you is my woman now!”

Giuseppe Verdi’s Falstaff is being performed November 9-December 1 by LA Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave. For more info: (213)972-8001; www.laopera.com.

ed rampell

Ed Rampell

The new book co-authored by L.A.-based reviewer Ed Rampell, "The Hawaii Movie and Television Book", published by Honolulu's Mutual Publishing, drops Nov. 25. See: http://hawaiimtvbook.weebly.com/

Photos: Michael Wilson

Monday, 28 October 2013