Album Review: Audra McDonald – Way Back to Paradise (1998)


“To whirl and to dance till the white day is done”

It’s easy to look back with hindsight on this kind of thing but it is remarkable to see what Audra McDonald did with her first solo album Way Back To Paradise. Eschewing the easy route of well-worn standards and crowd-pleasing hits, McDonald turned to her contemporaries, working with upcoming composer-lyricists in showcasing their little-known or unproduced work (in some cases , writing specifically for her) that was very much at the vanguard of new musical theatre writing.

And she chose wisely, for among that company are the likes of Jason Robert Brown, Michael John LaChiusa and Adam Guettel. And thus the tracklisting respectively features gems like ‘You Don’t Know This Man’ from Parade, now surely acknowledged as a modern classic but at this point yet to open on Broadway, the striking ‘Mistress of a Senator’ from Hello Again, and ‘Come To Jesus’ from Saturn Returns, on which Guettel appears too.

The music may have been unfamiliar but knitting the material together, through its formal complexity and considerable diversity, is McDonald’s arresting soprano. A formidable instrument, wielded with supreme confidence, it also shows off her burgeoning skills at truly inhabiting character through song. Whether trying to get pregnant or expecting, a dreamy lover or an unhappy mistress, there’s such commitment to the storytelling that it is impossible to resist falling hard for McDonald’s considerable charms.


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