She’s just an O away from EGOT, with record-breaking Ts, and she’s a fervent queer advocate.
The Celestial Choir is in envious awe of Audra McDonald.
Every gay man has a female vocalist he admires/celebrates/worships. Our first icon was, of course, Judy. Audra most definitely has the accolades to warrant my veneration.
As a Broadway luminary, she has six Tony statues on her fireplace mantel, more performance wins than any other actor and the only person to win in all four acting categories: musical, drama, leading role, and supporting role. It remains to be seen if this record-shattering achievement will ever be surpassed. Oh, and two Grammys and one Emmy.
She also has had plum screen roles: currently in “The Gilded Age” and a significant cameo in “Rustin” (a must-see, stirring Netflix biopic of Bayard Rustin, a little-known queer activist who, alongside Martin Luther King Jr., was the major March on Washington organizer).
Audra has long been among the loudest entertainment-industry champions of LGBT rights, prominently honored by PFLAG and the Human Rights Campaign — and awarded the National Medal of Arts. When she joined Twitter, her handle was @AudraEqualityMc.
With seven solo CDs released, she maintains an active concert career, most recently with the Utah Symphony at Abravanel Hall. Finally, to the topic of this review. But I was compelled to acquaint her with the less-enlightened.
While Abravanel has 2,811 seats, she made the venue feel intimate with her innate charm and personal introductions to her repertoire of musical theater, jazz, and popular songs.
“I’m not going to sing country western,” she playfully announced.
This warm congeniality is a hallmark of her concerts, but also attributable in part to her feeling that she was in her “second home.” Her husband is Tony nominee Will Swenson, a Utah native, and his family operates the paramount Hale Center Theater Orem (where they have together performed a charity benefit. Might fans eagerly anticipate another McDonald/Swenson benefit with the opening of the company’s long-awaited new theater in Pleasant Grove?).
Beginning the evening was a vibrant orchestral “Carousel Waltz,” a nod to her first Tony win as Carrie Pipperidge. Under the nimble baton of her “work husband,” long-time music director/collaborator Andy Einhorn, the symphony was particularly majestic, with its brass section strong and buoyant.
With Audra’s first song, “I Am What I Am,” from Jerry Herman’s “La Cage aux Folles,” she celebrated living truly who we are and enjoying an authentic life. (Lyrics: It’s time to open up your closet / Life’s not worth a damn ’til you shout / Hey world, I am what I am.)
When her eldest daughter Zoe was an infant, she told Audra her “singing made her ears cry,” and while tinkling on the piano, her youngest daughter at five months, Sally, slammed shut the keyboard lid, as soon as Audra joined her in a short verse of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” With this tongue-in-cheek explanation, Audra was pleased to include lullabies, beginning with “Pure Imagination,” which premiered in “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” (the film version, not the recent weak stage adaptation). Followed by a smart linking of two songs sung as lullabies — Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” and Sondheim’s “Children Will Listen” — into a comment about prejudice. Commenting, “Don’t we need that love and acceptance more than ever right now?”
She turned herself into a lovesick chatterbox with the hilarious “Can’t Stop Talking About Him,” the Frank Loesser patter ditty from “Let’s Dance.” And accelerated the tempo of “I Could Have Danced All Night,” the bubbly number from “My Fair Lady.” The Frederick Loewe-Alan Jay Lerner standard McDonald acknowledged is the kind of popular song she has tended to avoid.
“But I earned my Soprano card by performing it.” We were encouraged to sing along.
As a champion of less-familiar fare, she included Jule Styne’s “Cornet Man,” a sexy faux-blues cut from the film version of “Funny Girl.”
Each song was sumptuously sung, and she has said she can’t include a composition that she didn’t have a personal connection to, surprisingly excluding any song from any of her Tony-winning roles. No “Ragtime.” No “Lady Day.” No “110 in the Shade.” The only exception from her role in “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” is “Summertime,” powerfully sung sans-microphone, yet her vocals filled the hall.
An Audra concert is an experience approaching the divine. There isn’t a critic who doesn’t proclaim the unparalleled breadth and versatility of her artistry.
At each of the few times he met Audra, including backstage after her revealing performance in Terrence McNally’s “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair De Lune,” Blair was fangirled agog.