Audra McDonald | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Audra McDonald


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Audra McDonald grew up in Fresno, California, singing in gospel choirs and performing in dinner-theater musicals. She trained as a classical soprano at Juilliard, but instead of pursuing operatic roles, in the early 90s she started auditioning for Broadway shows. Fortuitously, at that time color-blind casting had become acceptable, even fashionable, and McDonald landed a traditionally white part in Nicholas Hytner's 1994 revival of Carousel. She won a Tony for that performance, and would go on to win two more, in Master Class (1996) and Ragtime (1998)--but as it's turned out, a role she didn't get has had an even more dramatic effect on her career. A failed audition for Michael John LaChiusa's Hello Again in 1992 introduced her to the ambitious young composer, and the ensuing friendship has led to momentous collaborations like LaChiusa's 1999 quasi opera Marie Christine, a retelling of the Medea story written especially for McDonald. There she proved she could carry a show herself, and cemented her reputation as a formidable singer with acting talent to match. McDonald's style and repertoire are again tilting toward Broadway these days, but she still tempers her pop-bluesy passion with classical formality and restraint. Her style is disciplined and often introspective rather than flamboyant and brassy--instead of belting out a torch song, she'll turn it into a subtle, beautifully phrased expression of personal anguish, drawing the listener into her confidence. Her voice isn't big--one reason she might have shied away from opera houses, where body mikes are verboten--but it soars, glides, caresses, and whispers with complete assurance. In this Orchestra Hall concert, she'll stake her claim to a selection of standards that to many ears is still territory held by the likes of Judy Garland, Lena Horne, and Barbra Streisand--songs by Harold Arlen, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, and Rodgers and Hart, including "The Man That Got Away" and "Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home." Leading the big band behind McDonald will be her regular conductor, Ted Sperling. Saturday, October 27, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Barron Claiborne.

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