Audra McDonald at the Kennedy Center

October 5, 2011

Sitting through Audra McDonald’s show at the Kennedy Center last night, I really tried to parse what makes her the phenom that she is. Certainly she has a sound. Her pitches are accurate. She’s a passionate storyteller. She tends to have very good taste in material. And she has musical technique for days and days and days.

However, after a while I gave up and enjoyed the show. Really enjoyed the show. For anyone knowing McDonald’s body of work, the song list below pretty much tells the story. I will say that she had an openness with the audience that was lovely. And even though her patter was occasionally scattered, it was certainly spontaneous which I far prefer to pitch-perfect and canned.

Two things that the song list don’t tell you are that she accompanied herself at the piano on the Adam Guettel piece. Afterward, she explained that she had been inspired to do so by her late father who had expressed a desire that she play the piano in concert more. Also, the most emotional moment of the concert was the song, I’ll Be Here by Adam Gwon (composed of The Boy Detective Fails at Signature). It tells the story of a romance interrupted by 9/11. Sadly there is no YouTube version of McDonald singing the song. And when I saw the other (very competent) versions, they just didn’t hold up. And still my query from the first paragraph.

I have to admit that the objective observer in me sensed that McDonald didn’t seem to have an outside director for the show. I felt that there were a few opportunities missed in terms of staging and a few questions about song choice and line-up that could have been explored. Music director Andy Einhorn understands McDonald’s needs and artistic goals and support both brilliantly along with drummer Gene Lewin and Mark Vanderpoel. That said, Einhorn doesn’t necessarily provide any distinctive musical takes or insights with his arrangements. (i.e. It would be tough to accuse someone of singing Audra McDonald’s version of any song.) These quibbles notwithstanding, I have to admit that if the show were any more amazing I don’t know if I could have survived.

  • When Did I Fall in Love?
  • Stars and the Moon
  • It Might as Well Be Spring / Hurry, It’s Lovely Here
  • My Buddy
  • I Double Dare You
  • Moonshine Lullaby
  • Moments in the Woods
  • He Loves and She Loves
  • We Sail Upon the Water*
  • Dear Friend
  • Whose Angry Little Man? /Baby Mine
  • I Could Have Danced All Night**
  • Go Back Home
  • I Can’t Stop Talking About Him
  • I’ll Be Here
  • Make Someone Happy
  • Ain’t It the Truth
  • Somedays

*Guessing at this title. The song is by Adam Guettel  **I don’t actually remember where in the show this came.