Review: MUSINGS THROUGH MUSIC is a Perfect Evening with Audra McDonald and Andy Einhorn at 92nd Street Y

Audra McDonald Gives a Master Class on Art and Life

By: Feb. 13, 2024
Review: MUSINGS THROUGH MUSIC is a Perfect Evening with Audra McDonald and Andy Einhorn at 92nd Street Y
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Review: MUSINGS THROUGH MUSIC is a Perfect Evening with Audra McDonald and Andy Einhorn at 92nd Street Y
photo by Richard Termine

Audra McDonald is a national treasure. That is not hyperbole or conjecture. In the 25 or so years since she graduated from Julliard, she has created a gallery of indelible characters on Broadway, television, and film. Along the way, she became the most lauded performer in Tony history, picking up a record-breaking six of the awards in all four performance categories. She has also won an Emmy and two Grammy Awards. She is generally listed among the best voices to have ever graced a Broadway stage. She frequently teaches master classes where she passes along the discipline and seriousness of purpose that have made her one of America’s premiere performers.

Last October she was to have presented a concert at the 92nd Street Y with her longtime musical director and friend, Andy Einhorn. Unfortunately, due to illness, she had to cancel that appearance. But last week, she made up for lost time when she presented that concert, MUSINGS THROUGH MUSIC, at last. It was a traditional concert combined with an “Inside the Actor’s Studio” style interview with Einhorn doubling as both her accompanist and interviewer. Any opportunity to hear Ms McDonald sing is a gift. But to hear her thoughts on her magnificent career and the lessons she has learned along the way was a one-of-a-kind treat.

Review: MUSINGS THROUGH MUSIC is a Perfect Evening with Audra McDonald and Andy Einhorn at 92nd Street Y
photo by Richard Termine

First the songs. She sang all the songs any dedicated fan would want to hear. Opening with “Mister Snow” from Carousel, she found all the quirkiness of first love. She brought the house down with her stunning aria from Verdi’s Macbeth, “Vienni T’Affretta,” which won her a Tony for Master Class. She reprised her turn as Marie Christine with LaChuisa’s “I Will Give You My Money,” a technical feat indeed. You could hear a pin drop when she got to “Your Daddy’s Son” from Ragtime. Her interpretation of this classic has only improved over time. McDonald’s most impressive feat was her rendition of Billie Hollidy’s “Crazy, He Calls Me” in which she slipped between her own voice and her perfect impersonation of Ms Holliday. It is the kind of technique that defies description. She gave us a beautifully acted “Simple Little Things” from 110 in the Shade, dedicated to her father who passed away during the run of that show. Finally, she recreated her marvelous performance of “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music Live. If that doesn’t inspire you, nothing can.

Review: MUSINGS THROUGH MUSIC is a Perfect Evening with Audra McDonald and Andy Einhorn at 92nd Street Y
photo by Richard Termine

McDonald also blessed us with tunes from her concert repertoire. She feted the late Sondheim with a medley of “Not a Day Goes By” and “What Can You Lose.” She debuted a song by two writers she discovered on TikTok, “I Love Today,” a beautiful reminder about the importance of eternal gratitude. She sang a rapturous “Home” from The Wiz and wrapped up by singing both parts of the Judy Garland Barbara Streisand classic, “Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again. “

I had the joy of attending with my good friend Shannah Rae. Shannah is a brilliantly gifted teacher/vocal coach who specializes in pop/rock music. She wrote down her thoughts about Audra’s performance in the form of a letter to her students about the lessons she had learned from Audra’s concert. It encapsulates what I felt so much better than I could devise, that I am printing her list in full. Since both of McDonald’s parents were teachers, I hope it would please her that her concert was not only entertaining but highly educational.

Review: MUSINGS THROUGH MUSIC is a Perfect Evening with Audra McDonald and Andy Einhorn at 92nd Street Y
photo by Richard Termine

Shannah’s words:

  1. Never underestimate generosity.  Audra referenced multiple times the generosity of time and shared wisdom she has received from her mentors through the years.
  2. It's about the work.  The getting/booking is the byproduct.  The work is the goal.
  3. Trust your instincts.  She knows the minute she hears a song whether or not she wants to sing it.  She knows if it aligns. And she says no to what doesn't.
  4. Be kind and make friends (aka non-icky networking).  She spent a summer during college doing summer stock and made a friend who later got a job at a casting office.  She saw a project come across the table (The Secret Garden) and told Audra (who didn't at this time have an agent or an equity card) that she would try to get her in the room.  She did.  Audra booked the tour and then moved to the Broadway show.  And the rest is history.
  5. Don't skip masterclasses just because you aren't singing.  She spoke about a time when Barbara Cook came to Juilliard and she begged to sing in her masterclass.  They said no and instead, she ushered.  But she learned volumes simply from being in the room.  (And years later did join concerts with Barbara, by the way.)
  6. You don't have to agree to respect each other.  Stephen Sondheim had very strong opinions about the 2011 production of Porgy and Bess that included Audra.  When asked about it, she said (paraphrased because I can't remember the exact words) 'He was passionate about it and I respect that.'  They remained colleagues and friends and she went on to sing in concerts featuring his work including his 90 birthday celebration.
  7. Forgive yourself and move on.  She went up on lyrics in the middle of a Verdi aria.  She turned to Andy, and he fed her the next part, and she turned back around and jumped right back in.   You know what happened?  We still all applauded wildly at the end…because she KILLED it.  She credited Barbara Cook for modeling this for her.  And reminding her to simply 'have fun'.
  8. Our voices can do amazing things.  Don't limit yourself.  My favorite part of the evening was when she did a Billie Holiday song.  But the fascinating part is that she chose to do an Audra/Billie blended version.  She sang one phrase in her voice and then the next as Billie.  She quite literally shifted her vocal tract every other phrase. I WISH I had a video of this to show you.  Long story short.  The voice can be trained to do whatever you want it to do.  (If you put in the time.)
  9. Work begets work.  Keep showing up.  You can't know where it will lead.  But the work WILL pay off. She told story after story of how she got opportunities because of work she had done elsewhere and people bringing her name up in rooms for other projects.
  10. Scary means lean in.  She shared that she knows a project is right for her when she feels her heart race, her stomach turn, and her hands shake.  The fear is her signal to lean in.
Review: MUSINGS THROUGH MUSIC is a Perfect Evening with Audra McDonald and Andy Einhorn at 92nd Street Y
photo by Richard Termine

Thank you, Audra McDonald, for so many compelling evenings in the theatre and for this enlightening evening at the 92nd Street Y. For more information about Audra McDonald, go to her website, audramcdonald.com, or follow her @audramcdonald on Instagram. For more wonderful programs at the 92nd Street Y, visit 92ny.org.



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