Music Review: Broadway star’s performance goes deep
By Jim Lowe
Staff Writer | August 27,2013
Photo by Sheila Selden
Broadway star Audra McDonald performs with the Manchester Music Festival Orchestra conducted by Andy Einhorn on Sunday at the Southern Vermont Arts Center.
Manchester Music Festival’s first fundraising Gala Pops Concert in its history, Sunday at Southern Vermont Arts Center’s Arkell Pavilion, began with the expected light fare — “007” themes, Gershwin, Ellington, Williams and Broadway — but the second half delivered the emotional wallop that might be more likely found at one of its best chamber music concerts.
Broadway star Audra McDonald also sang much of the expected fare, but her performances, from 1922’s “My Buddy” to songs of today, overstepped the usual emotional bounds of musical theater, ripping at the heart as in the best of opera. McDonald, a trained singer with broad vocal and emotional range, is truly an artist.
McDonald’s part of the program opened traditionally enough with the Sheldon Harnick-Jerry Bock “When Did I Fall in Love?” from 1955’s “Fiorello!” Throughout, she was accompanied, for the most part, by the Manchester Music Festival Orchestra joined by her own trio, all conducted by her music director Andy Einhorn.
But, as McDonald began to sing she revealed that she was much more than a theater singer. She invested her 16 songs not only with the emotional power of the lyrics, but she used her Juilliard-trained soprano with skill and expressiveness to convey their musical impact. The result was a depth that ranged from joyful to heart-wrenching and brought visible tears, many and often, to the audience, including this jaded critic.
This isn’t all that surprising. Not only has the 43-year-old McDonald won five Tony Awards on Broadway, tying the late Julie Harris and Angela Lansbury for the record, she tours regularly performing concerts like these, classical song cycles and even opera. She starred in Broadway’s recent controversial “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess.”
McDonald also proved a consummate showman, surrounding some songs with very personal stories that only added to their emotional impact. Her tale of the Cambridge street person whose singing of the Walter Donaldson-Gus Kahn “My Buddy” inspired her to perform it was both funny touching.
Much more personal was “Ordinary Mothers” from Stephen Sondheim’s 1973 “A Little Music,” in which a young girl bitter-sweetly compares them with her actress mother. For McDonald — who has a young daughter — this clearly hit home and she shared it both through the lyrics and the music.
While the contemporary songs may have appealed more directly with their lyrics, it was the old “war horses” that had the greatest musical impact. Irving Berlin’s “Moonshine Lullaby” was gloriously tender, lyrically and musically, and McDonald delivered it with a real feeling of vulnerability. (Manchester Music Festival violinist Joana Genova was responsible for the tender violin solo.)
Unfettered joy describes McDonald’s delivery of “I Could Have Danced All Night” from the 1945 Lerner and Loewe masterpiece “My Fair Lady” and she even invited the all-too-willing audience to join in. Still, the moment of greatest joy as well as tenderness was McDonald’s simple and simply beautiful performance, accompanied only on piano by Einhorn, her music director, in piano, was the Harold Arlen-E.Y. Harburg “Somewhere over the Rainbow.”
The Manchester Music Festival Orchestra was comprised of festival members and top-notch freelance musicians. The first half was a selection of movie and Broadway hits ably and enthusiastically conducted by artistic director Ariel Rudiakov. (Elmore percussionist Dov Schiller was responsible for the excellent vibraphone solo in the “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” while Christian French was the able electric guitarist in the “007” themes.)
Sunday’s Manchester Music Festival pops concerts lasted for three hours — yet nobody seemed to notice, seemingly ready for even more. Now that’s a sign of an excellent concert.
Manchester Music Festival
For information about the Manchester Music Festival, including its fall-winter programs, call 802-362-1956, or go online to www.mmfvt.org.