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The Seth Concert Series – Audra McDonald – Review

Audra McDonald
Audra McDonald

It wasn’t that long ago when Audra McDonald treaded the boards of the West End, in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill (actually at the Wyndham’s Theatre), about Billie Holiday (1915-1959). That show wasn’t exactly discussed at length in this episode of The Seth Concert Series, but in a career as rich and varied as McDonald’s, that was entirely forgivable – and after all, there’s only so much ground that can be covered in a one-act concert.

The amount of ground that is covered in just over an hour and a half is quite impressive, however, and the stories and recollections of stage life were a joy to listen to. Evidently, host Seth Rudetsky, ever skilful on his trusty piano, has known McDonald for decades, and in this online concert setting I sat at home almost feeling like the third person in what was effectively a two-party conversation, inasmuch as I wasn’t always entirely sure precisely what they were talking about, but the company and camaraderie was highly enjoyable nonetheless.

Fairly early on, McDonald tackled the subject of racial inequality head on, with the all-too-familiar story of how she was told by members of her family as a child that she would need to do twice as well as her white counterparts just to be recognised. Nobody, therefore, is as astonished as she is to have garnered the sort of success that she has – for instance, she’s notched up six Tony Awards, across all four eligible categories (Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical, and the corresponding awards for plays). A later anecdote from her movie career was quite astonishing – the scenario described would probably not happen today. McDonald is also a founding member of Black Theatre United, an organisation set up for the black theatre community in the United States to use their platforms to speak out about racial injustice.

Though her strong soprano voice lends itself well to opera, she was less than happy studying the genre whilst training at the Julliard School in New York, preferring musical theatre. When she got to Broadway, she realised that a stage is a stage is a stage, whether it’s in Manhattan or anywhere else in the world, and she felt she needed to do the same things she would anywhere – convey feelings and emotions and communicate to a live audience.

The musical offerings were a pleasure to listen to – ranging from the defiant ‘I Am What I Am’ from La Cage aux Folles and the even more headstrong ‘Are You F—-ing Kidding Me?’, a song by the Australian singer-songwriter Kate Miller-Heidke, about an ex-lover who now wants to be friends with the song’s first-person narrator on Facebook, to the poignant ‘Your Daddy’s Son’ from Ragtime The Musical. Fans of Jason Robert Brown’s music will, I strongly suspect, have loved ‘Stars and the Moon’ from Songs For A New World, and a mash-up of ‘Children Will Listen’ from Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods and ‘You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught’ from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific was a particular highlight.

For all the evident pain (there are, McDonald asserted, two pandemics going on in America, Covid and systemic racism), the concert ended with a message of hope and positivity in ‘Climb Every Mountain’ from The Sound of Music. An enriching and enjoyable experience.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

LISTING:
Mark Cortale Presents
THE SETH CONCERT SERIES

AUDRA MCDONALD with SETH RUDETSKY
Sunday, July 12th at 8PM EST
Monday, July 13th at 3PM EST

NORM LEWIS with SETH RUDETSKY
Sunday, July 19th at 8PM EST
Monday, July 20th at 3PM EST

MEGAN HILTY with SETH RUDETSKY
Sunday, July 26th at 8PM EST
Monday, July 27th at 3PM EST

CHEYENNE JACKSON with SETH RUDETSKY
Sunday, August 2nd at 8PM EST
Monday, August 3rd at 3PM EST

All tickets available at www.thesethconcertseries.com

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