Thursday, August 23, 2007

Amazing Broadway Performer: Audra McDonald

Unlike many Favorite Broadway Performers I’ve Never Seen (an official classification, by the way) we’re so fortunate that Audra McDonald has a body of work that has been recorded. For me, that has primarily been the television movie of Annie, where she played Grace Farrell with such heart and beauty. She was the main reason I bought the soundtrack despite owning the Broadway cast recording and the original film’s soundtrack. For a child, Grace Farrell is such a magical role because she comes in and saves the day for Annie. Who wouldn’t want to have a Grace Farrell in their life? McDonald’s Grace is beautifully portrayed, given such warmth that you can’t help but adore her.

I have a distinct memory of buying the Marie Christine CD. I knew very little about the show, but I had entered my phase of buying new Broadway CDs to learn everything I could about Broadway performers, Broadway shows, musical styles, and storytelling techniques. I was enraptured. I had been quite familiar with Medea from having to read it in high school and college, and this interpretation, with the inimitable Audra McDonald as the Medea character, grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. When you watch video of actresses playing Medea, often their depiction seems so huge that it doesn’t feel real. Here, McDonald gives Marie Christine the power the role requires, but the depth of her voice gives the character humanity. The giggly happy mamma flashback Marie feels at one with violent, vengeful Marie. You can feel the change and understand how this love-struck woman becomes the vitriolic ex. Despite having heard that CD hundreds of times, there are still moments when McDonald’s performance gives me chills.

Then, of course, there’s Ragtime, which I was very fortunate to have experienced through the magic of the Lincoln Center archives. After hearing McDonald’s commanding performance on the OBCR so many times, I was surprised by how much deeper the performance she gave was when taking into account the staging and her physical expression of the character. Despite knowing what a horrible thing Sarah has attempted to do by killing her child, I was not prepared to feel such pity for the character when McDonald sings “Your Daddy’s Son” with such heart-tearing agony.

Of course, I own several of her solo CDs (I always seem to be about one behind, though), which are wonderful. I also love her performances on the My Favorite Broadway concerts, particularly her take on “Love Changes Everything,” which becomes astounding when performed as part of a trio with Marin Mazzie and Judy Kuhn.

I’m so thrilled that she may have finally gotten a breakthrough on a big television show. I know it’s heart-breaking to even think of McDonald spending time on frothy television love triangles, but I’m elated that it could give her talent the spotlight it demands. McDonald should be starring in movies, winning Oscars, then returning to the stage in a million different roles in musicals and non-musicals. This role in such a high-profile show could be her opportunity.

Getting to Know You Interview:

the Broadway Mouth
August 23, 2007

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