“Make just one someone happy,
And you will be happy, too”
It’s hardly Audra McDonald’s fault that the audience for her long-awaited return to the London stage with these two concerts was so de trop but for me, the adulation was exactly that, too much. For the (relative) intimacy of the Leicester Square Theatre, for the cultivation of a cabaret atmosphere, for the genuine appreciation of this her performance here as opposed to the bottled-up idolisation for a body of work from over the ocean.
Which is not to say that the reputation isn’t well-deserved, not at all. A hugely accomplished actor and singer, her record six Tony Awards unprecedently span all four acting categories. And her choice of material here, along with MD Andy Einhorn, demonstrates a real commitment to American musical theatre, delving back into the classic songbook but showcasing newer composers too, never letting an opportunity to explore her social conscience.
From the Gershwins (an incendiary unmiked ‘Summertime’) and Irving Berlin (‘Moonshine Lullaby’) to Jason Robert Brown (‘Stars and the Moon’) and Adam Gwon (an impassioned ‘I’ll Be Here’ from Ordinary Days), the range and depth of performance is undeniable, McDonald’s supple soprano forceful and fierce where it needs to be but also capable of warmth and intelligence too, surrendering the spotlight momentarily for a singalong to ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’.
And as with much cabaret, the highlights come in the moments that feel more personal. Here, it’s the stories of being a girl, of being a mother (a gorgeously tender ‘Baby Mine’), of being a black woman (The Scottsboro Boys’ ‘Go Back Home’), that held my attention spellbound, coming close to inspiring the rapture that so many got from just seeing her walk on stage. Thankfully, a wider swathe of London audiences are lucky in that McDonald will be returning for a full run of her acclaimed turn in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill in the summer, just make sure you listen properly as well as applaud wildly.