BWW Review: The Queen of Broadway, Audra McDonald Returns to Chicago at Steppenwolf Theatre

Audra McDonald, the reigning Queen of Broadway, is a woman who needs no introduction in the theatre community. This is probably why the seats at the Steppenwolf Theatre were packed Monday evening with audience members who clung silently to her every word, laughed heartily at every joke, and exploded with applause and ovations at every possibility. The two-performance, one-night-only event comprised of Ms. McDonald singing with her signature embrace-like warmth, as well as stories between the songs prompted by the always-delightful Seth Rudetsky.

The evening felt like a three-way conversation between McDonald, Rudetsky, and the people of Chicago. When the two on stage did not remember the answers to a question, audience members felt more than comfortable shouting back, and they would acknowledge the audience members in turn. When Audra led the concert-goers in a sing-along of "I Could Have Danced All Night", she jovially called out a soprano audience member who popped the high C on the last note. Her stories served to humanize the star, telling tales of messing up onstage, getting star-struck meeting her favorite celebrities, not being recognized, college life, and motherhood. Then again, it is difficult to not put on a pedestal someone who is comfortable calling Stephen Sondheim "Steve".

Her singing was, naturally, divine. The woman was fashioned by God's own hand specifically for the purpose of singing "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess; there will be none greater. Most of the selections would be familiar to musical theatre fans: "Maybe This Time", "Climb Every Mountain", and "Moments in the Woods" being some of the most popular. Her performance style is peaceful, almost still, favoring subtle facial expression over large body movement in order to convey emotion. (This came in contrast to husband Will Swenson who sang a rousing rendition of "The Pirate King" to relieve her for a few moments.)

The 90 minutes she spent on the Steppenwolf stage felt more like a breezy coffee date with an old friend (who happens to be a Broadway star). Any theatre-goer would do well to put in effort to see Ms. McDonald Live at least once in their artistic life. After all, they don't give out six Tony Awards for nothing!

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From This Author Katherine Damisch

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