Music review: Audra McDonald sings at Segerstrom Concert Hall
Four-time Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald is amazing. She becomes the character of every song she sings. Yet she slips easily in and out of character to charm with personal stories. So maybe there were 20 different McDonalds when she sang American songs from 1922 to the present, Saturday at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.
It wasn’t all fun and games, though. At least four songs struck so deeply at the heart that it was hard to hold back sobs.
McDonald has a rich, honeyed voice with a top extension that has operatic heft. She used the “big” voice judiciously for climaxes, but changed her delivery for youthful innocence, fear of betrayal, or sassy, come-on sexuality.
Getting off to a fast start, she joked about speeding from eating too much junk food driving to Costa Mesa from Fresno, where she grew up. She talked about being a mother whose 3-year-old daughter didn’t like her singing. (Now 10, Zoe Madeline has found her own voice and modified her opinion.) She dedicated Adam Guettel’s “Migratory V” to her father, who died four years ago in a plane accident.
Recurring themes included marriage equality and social justice.
Still, the deepest emotional heart of the program came later. First, she sang a tender, tearful medley consisting of “Whose Little Angry Man are You?” from “Raisin” and “Baby Mine” from Disney’s “Dumbo.” McDonald then made “Go Back Home” from Kander and Ebb’s “The Scottsboro Boys” almost unbearably poignant.
The final wipe-out was Adam Gwon’s stunning 9/11 song, “I’ll Be Here,” from “Ordinary Days,” which had its West Coast premiere last year at next-door SCR. Pick me up off the floor.
Backed by pianist Andy Einhorn, bassist Mark Vanderpoel and drummer Gene Lewin, McDonald made it all seem easy. Don’t be deceived. Behind that illusion is lots of hard work. McDonald is one in a million.
Photo: Audra McDonald. Credit: Michael Wilson