Audra McDonald in Concert, Leicester Square Theatre

 

By guest critic Harry McDonald

With a record breaking six Tony Awards to her name, Audra McDonald is one of Broadway’s living legends. This series of intimate concerts at Leicester Square Theatre reflects upon her ongoing career, and treats musical theatre fans to a jewel box of anecdotes and arias.

The concert’s format is well-explained by pianist and host Seth Rudetsky: ‘song, talking bit, song, talking bit’. It works. Talkshow snippets move seamlessly into showstopping numbers, all guided by Rudetsky’s playful chemistry and a sizeable stack of sheet music. The pair are completely at ease with each other on stage, knowing they have stories and songs aplenty up their sleeves for wherever the night may take them. This informality only adds to the evening’s exceptionality.

And what an exceptional voice. A shimmering soprano in complete command of its range; her instrument, as McDonald refers to it, is divinely tuned. She reaches the crescendos of Cabaret’s ‘Maybe This Time’ with ease and authority, and delivers Summertime by Gershwin with an emotional punch.

Most touching, are those moments when McDonald’s songs seem to glance towards the intimate stories she has been sharing. Knowingly hammy, The Rose [or, Some Say Love] remembers a cringe-worthy school play teased out by Rudetsky, while ‘Glamorous Life’, from Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, charts a daughter’s distance from her glamorous mother who works as a touring actress. The fact that McDonald’s own teenage daughter and five month old baby are sitting backstage adds a further resonance to McDonald’s textured vocal delivery, as fact and fiction intertwine.

Several contemporary numbers are also wisely mixed into the ‘best of’ set, from two side-splitting Craig’s List Lieder, to the softly heart-shattering ‘I’ll Be Here’, from Adam Gwon’s Ordinary Days. This gives a vital variety to the overall structure of the night, and ensures there is never a dull moment. A tale about Puff Daddy or Liza Minnelli can any second turn into a song about sandwich relish or lost love. With only a piano and some microphones, this is one of the most compelling concerts I have ever seen.

In June, McDonald will finally be making her West End debut as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill. McDonald has already stormed New York with her performance, and will no doubt have Wyndam’s Theatre on its feet. As they say in show business: beg, borrow, or steal…

Audra McDonald in Concert runs through 15 April.

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