Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Audra McDonald Was Paralyzingly Brilliant

Review by KCMetropolis:

American treasures with Audra McDonald

By Anthony Rodgers   

Tue, Nov 19, 2013

Tony and Grammy award-winning performer Audra McDonald graced the stage at Helzberg Hall this weekend, performing lesser-known songs from American musical theatre with the Kansas City Symphony.

I must confess that Audra McDonald is a musical idol of mine, and seeing her perform live was more extraordinary than I expected it to be. Her soprano voice has a gorgeous timbre and is malleable in settings ranging from intimate performances to the stages of opera and Broadway. Last Saturday, the Kansas City Symphony and Kansas City Young Audiences brought the Tony and Grammy award-winning artist to the Kauffman Center for Performing Arts and transformed Helzberg Hall into a shrine to the American song.The orchestra played as she walked onto the stage to a flood of eager applause, but with her first notes, she captivated the audience to silence. Opening with “When Did I Fall In Love” from Fiorello!, McDonald was enchanting and proceeded to present an array of American songs, many of which come from the realm of musical theatre. These selections were not, however, those of mainstream popularity, but were instead chosen by McDonald to highlight works and shows that are of interest to her and deserving of greater attention, including “I Double Dare You” and “My Buddy.” This mission to present hidden gems of the song world didn't stop her from singing more well-known songs like “Moments in the Woods” and “I Could Have Danced All Night.” She also performed songs from more recent productions, such as “Stars and the Moon” from Songs For A New World and “Go Back Home” from The Scottsboro Boys.

Her programming had a roller-coaster effect on the emotions. Two sweet, poetic lullabies—“Whose Little Angry Man” from Raisin, the musical adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun, and “Baby Mine” from Disney's Dumbo—were paired and followed by awkward and hilarious selections from Gabriel Kahane's Craigslistlieder, a collection of songs whose lyrics come from the advertisement website itself. McDonald also sang heartbreaking messages of love and the importance of making someone happy—“I'll Be Here” from Ordinary Days was so intense and beautiful that I became paralyzed listening.In addition to being a talented soprano, McDonald is a wonderful actress and demonstrated this skill through her characterization within each song. While she often gave personal anecdotes between numbers—many laughs were shared by all!—she became another person when singing, telling each story compellingly.

McDonald was accompanied by two groups of musicians. Joining her on tour was a trio consisting of Brian Hertz, piano, Gene Lewin, drums, and Mark Vanderpoel, bass. These three not only played well with one another in a combo setting, but also added tender and unexpected vocals to “Moonshine Lullaby.” The Kansas City Symphony supported McDonald by providing a lush score to the musical numbers. Sunho Kim, the evening's concertmaster, played the solo violin part of “He Plays The Violin” from 1776 seemingly with great ease, although sometimes her sound was lost in the volume of the orchestra. The hazy timbre achieved by the ensemble, however, during “Moon River” was hypnotizing, and an encore performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was icing on the musical cake.

While she has earned Tonys and Grammys, Audra McDonald also has the talent, humor, and heart to support her accomplishments. Performing a set of nontraditional American songs allowed her to demonstrate her brilliant voice and versatility as a performer in addition to inspiring listeners to expand their knowledge of these hidden gems and seek to make someone else happy.

REVIEW: Kansas City Symphony with Kansas City Young Audiences

Audra McDonald with the Kansas City Symphony

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

1601 Broadway Blvd., Kansas City, MO

For more information, call (816) 471-0400 or visit

Top Photo: Audra McDonald (Photo by Andrew Eccles)  

Bottom Photo: Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center For the Performing Arts (Photo by William Rosen)