Monday, 18 January 2016

Review: Audra McDonald Live In Concert at the Leicester Square Theatre

Audra McDonald Live In Concert
Leicester Square Theatre
Reviewed on Sunday 17th January 2016 (evening performance)

Before taking to the stage at the Leicester Square Theatre yesterday for two sold out shows, it had been over fifteen years since six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald had performed a solo concert in London. It's safe to say McDonald made up for lost time, performing a plethora of music from the Great American Musical Theatre Songbook. 

Admitting that London is her favourite city in the world outside of New York, the soprano extraordinaire seemed overjoyed to be back on a London stage. She was warm and sincere throughout, but most importantly created a relaxed atmosphere - the Leicester Square Theatre has never felt so intimate. McDonald dealt with latecomers and crazy audience members humorously and invited the (mostly) tuneful crowd to join her on several occasions. 

Beautifully capturing the essence of each song and not afraid to embrace the moment, the show felt carefully constructed to take the audience on a journey; I immediately felt at ease, then I was in hysterics before going through all sorts of emotions from joy to heartbreak. Opening with 'When Did I Fall in Love', McDonald - whose vocals were crystal clear all evening - went on to sing numbers from shows she has starred in as well as material close to her heart and a few songs she simply loves to sing.

"Every song was a highlight... Audra McDonald is the walking definition of perfection."

Whilst performing plenty of classics, I greatly admire McDonald for being an advocate for up-and-coming musical theatre composers. When speaking about each song she always spoke about the writer, particularly when the material was new. McDonald proudly spoke about working with both Jason Robert Brown and Adam Gwon when they each were just starting out; her performance of Robert Brown's 'Stars and Moon' was stunning and later in the evening McDonald sang 'I'll Be Here' by Gwon during which time stood still; she gave the masterclass of masterclasses in how to tell a story through song -  McDonald left myself and everyone sat around me wiping away tears from their eyes. 

In the Broadway icon's own words "No Audra McDonald concert would be complete without a Stephen Sondheim song". She sang 'The Glamorous Life' from A Little Night Music which, as a Mum who is constantly away, McDonald explained she could relate to from her daughter's perspective. Despite admitting that she finds Stephen Sondheim's work scary to perform and claiming to have never sung the song without making a mistake,  McDonald gave a commanding rendition.

Every song was a highlight, with other particular stand outs included 'My Buddy', 'Maybe This Time' and 'Summertime', as well as 'I Could Have Danced All Night' during which McDonald made us wait and wait for the big high note, before finally treating the adoring audience to an even higher one. One of the evening's most moving songs was 'Go Back Home' from The Scottsboro Boys which is the title track of her latest album. McDonald performed each note and lyric as if Kander and Ebb tailor made the song for her.

McDonald in Lady Day
From the fourth row it was remarkable to admire McDonald's exquisite vocal technique. Impressively she didn't take one sip of water throughout the entire performance and didn't show any sign of vocal tiredness, despite having just performed a matinee. McDonald worked superbly with musical director Andy Einhorn; the pair shared that all-important psychic chemistry throughout the show.

Sadly all good things must come to an end; before heading off to her hotel to tuck into some chocolate hobnobs, McDonald closed the show with a magnificent rendition of 'Climb Every Mountain' - a song she sang in NBC's The Sound of Music Live as Mother Abbess in 2013. As the song ended the entire audience immediately jumped to their feet.

The applause didn't die down until McDonald returned to the stage for one final number. She paid tribute to "one of the greatest singers the world has ever known", Judy Garland, with an effortless performance of 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow'. The entire house shot to their feet a second time, concluding a truly special whirlwind of an evening.

Last night may have marked the end of McDonald's latest world tour, but there is certainly no rest for the star who today is travelling back to New York to rehearse her latest Broadway musical, Shuffle Along. Shortly after Shuffle Along opens in April, McDonald will take a break from the production to star as Billie Holiday in the London transfer of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill. The show, which won McDonald her sixth Tony Award in 2014, will mark her long-overdue West End debut - London audiences are in for a treat.

Audra McDonald is the walking definition of perfection. She dazzled, charmed and sang for her life whilst making it all look so easy. McDonald's eyes twinkled as she embraced the intimacy of the Leicester Square Theatre and gave each and every audience member a special night to remember. Utterly mesmerising.

Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Shuffle Along opens at New York's Music Box Theatre on 21st April 2016 (previews from 14th March). McDonald will not appear in performances between 20th June and 25th September.

Marking McDonald's West End debut, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill opens at the Wyndham's Theatre on 5th July (previews from 24th June) for a limited run to 3rd September 2016.

Photo Credit 2: Evgenia Eliseeva

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