Review: AUDRA MCDONALD IN CONCERT, The London Palladium

The Broadway star was back in the West End for one night singing from the Great American Songbook.

By: Sep. 26, 2022
Review: AUDRA MCDONALD IN CONCERT, The London Palladium
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Review: AUDRA MCDONALD IN CONCERT, The London Palladium

Audra McDonald's name sits right at the centre of the Broadway firmament. A record-breaking performer among the queens of musicals, her cup of talent certainly runneth over. The last time we saw her on this side of the pond was in 2017 and she was playing another legend, Billie Holiday, in Lonny Price's Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill. Five years and a pandemic later, she was back in the West End for one night singing from the Great American Songbook with Andy Einhorn and the London Musical Theatre Orchestra.

With a rather lax approach to what this means, she wowed the audience with a wondrous collection of tunes and her own brand of wit from Jason Robert Brown's "Stars and the Moon" to My Fair Lady's "I Could Have Danced All Night" and from "Everything's Coming Up Roses" to The Muppets' "It's Not Easy Being Green". Just in case we didn't know she is as versatile a vocalist already, this was more than enough proof.

Her astounding vocal prowess was accompanied by an effortlessness and ease that made the evening a uniquely personal performance: we got to know a little bit of the woman behind the roles. Yes, the vibrant intensity of her voice could power a small city, but she turns out to be more than a musical genius with a deep understanding of the human experience. Audra McDonald is actually really funny.

"Don't come to my concerts for class" she laughed after pulling a few anecdotes out of her metaphorical hat, shared that her children don't care one bit that she's one of the most sought-after artists, and descended from her high heels due to not being able to feel her toes anymore. She is a humble, relatable powerhouse who's exceptionally generous when it comes to sharing recognition too.

She guided every song by the emotional background that ties her to it, giving precise writing credits. From the late Stephen Sondheim to non-Americans Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, she honoured all the writers and composers. Her colleagues and influences also gor a nod in what became an accidental who's who of modern entertainment history and their contribution to the Songbook.

She describes Diahann Carroll as a trailblazer, explaining how she grew as an artist with her as a role model, while Barbara Cook's spirit was a presence throughout with her advice and motivation. Surprisingly, it doesn't feel like name-dropping at all, with her mentors and fellow stars featuring as regarded mentions in relation to her inspirations.

Only one person received a special treatment of sorts, with McDonald's humorously addressing Anna Wintour as "That girl" who asked her to sing "Cabaret" at "A party she was throwing at the Metropolitan Museum". It was a song she never initially wanted to touch, yet she delivered an arresting one-of-a-kind rendition that brimmed with emotion.

Her passion for life was the main character. She gently conveyed her beliefs and positions with the songs, coming off as a well-rounded, intelligent, empathetic woman with an enviable cultural baggage and astounding talent. It wasn't a career-highlight reel, but a heartfelt celebration of musical theatre and its artists.

Glimpses of her personal life peeked through as she briefly talked about her family and upbringing, but she mainly let the numbers speak for her. "Cornet Man" from Funny Girl is "A song [she] sang when I was 14, so only 100 years ago" for a competition she didn't win. The judges were impressed, but thought the track wasn't appropriate for a teenager.

In honour of Duke Ellington's first concert hall appearance being on that very same proscenium, she included the beautiful "(In My) Solitude", which was made famous by Holiday. Barbara Streisand's "Before The Parade Passes By" gave way to "Carefully Taught" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific. "Isn't the world crazy? It's a mess! We're not as far along as we should be" she exhaled exasperated after delivering an impassioned "Being Good Isn't Good Enough" from Hallelujah, Baby!

After a handful of other songs and before concluding with Cabaret, she reminded her crowd of her vocal command once again with "Love Is The Answer", summing up the energy of the night perfectly. Two encores followed and, in truth, they weren't enough. We could have sat there and be regaled for hours on end. The concert was being filmed for future release, so at some point we'll be able to relieve the magic she made on the Palladium stage.

Stay tuned to hear when the filmed concert will be released.


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