Concert Hall, May 11


Some talented kid could mimic Audra McDonald; could maybe catch the incandescence of her soprano range and the huskiness warming the edges of her chest voice. They might even replicate the translucence of her softest high notes, and the earthiness of her lowest ones. But the quality that would forever evade them is her spirit.

McDonald’s humanity elevated ours: refined it; made us nobler, more empathetic people. This is what high art does, perhaps especially when it’s the art of one of the scarce contemporary vocalists who sings with the conviction of a Callas or a Holiday; one who has a way of getting under your skin without you being aware of the incision.

Audra McDonald. Photos: Autumn de Wilde.

“I don’t want praise,” she sang in I Am What I Am (from La Cage Aux Folles), but I seldom review anything where the areas deserving praise seem boundless. Okay, so she could occasionally be too soft when resting her voice by telling us vastly entertainingly anecdotes, and she could even more rarely generate a less-than-beautiful timbre when transitioning from chest voice to head voice. But that’s it.

Humour and poignancy were emotions she released from songs rather than performed. When she sang Mr Snow (Carousel), she became a young girl again, the optimism, love and tolerance all fluttering like flags on the updraught of her voice. As when she was last here in 2015, she sang Summertime unamplified, and it was so startlingly truthful that it made you listen to the words as if for the first time.

She inhabited the Sondheim songs like they were home, articulating the lyrics of The Glamorous Life (A Little Night Music) as if devising them as she went. She remade Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret in her own image so completely that you gasped at the invention not just from her, but from Andy Einhorn’s arrangement, which he realised with bassist Mark Vanderpoel and drummer Gene Lewin.

The audience starred in the most magical singalong I’ve heard. The presence of the likes of Nancye Hayes and Tony Sheldon suggested the house was stacked with musical theatre’s royalty as well as its fans, so when she invited 2,000 people to sing I Could Have Danced All Night, it was not just eerily potent, it was accurately harmonised! Goosebumps? There must be a stronger word.

Audra Tours Australia in 2024