COSTA MESA, CA-I was looking forward to the treat of seeing Audra McDonald perform at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. This would be my first time catching the Broadway star live. I was a little nervous about it because I really didn’t know what to expect. Watching a YouTube performance is quite different than actually seeing the real deal in person.
Plus, the only other operatic voice I had ever seen in a concert was that of the great Kathleen Battle, a superlative engagement that allowed me to win over my wife’s heart that evening. So there was no grand announcement of what McDonald would be bringing to the table during her one evening concert in Orange County as she navigates through the West Coast on her North American Concert Tour.
There didn’t need to be an introduction to what she was singing. After all, McDonald has recorded 23 albums. So what is there to introduce? Still, before she embarked on her 90-minute, uninterrupted set, McDonald felt compelled to allow us to guess what she would be offering.
An Evening With Audra McDonald would be a culmination of Broadway show tunes, the cover of film songs and a dash of this and that from her vast songbird repertoire. With my wife fully embracing the opportunity of seeing one of the greatest opera voices of this generation because of her love for classical music, Broadway, and opera, as excited and thrilled as I was, I felt like I was in left field on this one. I had not a clue what was going to transpire from one song to the next.
But I am guessing I was not the only one. That is the beauty of McDonald’s greatness as an artist. Her amazing storytelling abilities combined with God’s gift of a voice makes her who she is. It is why she is so special. McDonald is one of those faces that is synonymous with greatness. You see the six Tony Awards that she’s won and you gush. You listen to the soundtracks on her slew of albums and wonder in amazement at the limitless artistic capabilities of McDonald.
It’s pretty hard to top all of that. During her performance at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, McDonald found a way to do just that. At least in this reviewer’s eyes and ears, she did. As McDonald went through her mighty showcase of vocal theatrics, I found myself simply floored.
Anyone who can wrap up six Tony Awards must be pretty special to watch live. But McDonald wasn’t making her appearance at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts to re-introduce the audience to her noted acting chops. McDonald showed up to sing. The audience, however, got the best of both worlds as McDonald navigated in between sharing personal and intimate stories to rocking the sellout crowd with her magnificent voice.
That voice. Wow. What can be said that already has not been bestowed upon McDonald. It’s more than a treat to listen to McDonald. It’s like listening to the voice of an angel. It’s almost indescribable. It’s not about the octaves. We already know about her vocal range. It’s the delivery part, more than anything, in my opinion, that elevates McDonald’s transcendent singing abilities. It is both commanding and nurturing at the same time, explosive yet soft.
Let me be perfectly clear: I am not an expert at this opera thing. I am not a Broadway musical buff, pretending to be something I am not. But sitting and listening to McDonald, I was moved in a way that only Battle and the late Prince moved me when I saw them in concert. That may not mean much to some people, but for a music lover such as myself, it is a big deal. I’ve been to plenty of concerts and witnessed good shows.
But only watching performances from Battle, Prince, and now McDonald, have I been stirred emotionally. McDonald is so dynamic that every lyric that reaches her lips is filled with a purified soulfulness coming up from the depths of the great women she admires. You could fill the spirit of Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Ruby Dee and Maya Angelou in the building, standing proud. But it is when McDonald sang the signature “Summertime” that may have awakened those who have come before her.
Unlike her other songs in which she sang using the microphone, McDonald sat the instrument down, threw her hair back and belted away, bringing an “Oh, my goodness!” moment to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. I felt chills. McDonald’s powerful ode to the ancestors almost had me tearing up. They certainly would be proud.