Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Audra McDonald at the Cinegrill

October 20, 2006

Audra McDonald’s current cabaret tour pulled into the Cinegrill in the historic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel this week for four shows in two nights. Much as she has done elsewhere in the country, she dazzled everyone in attendance including me. The material was mainly from her most recent album Build a Bridge, which features songs that have strong narrative or dramatic elements even though none of them are actual showtunes.

This show was a variant on the one she did earlier this year at The Walt Disney Concert Hall and the performance benefited greatly from a move to this far more intimate setting. McDonald has a great deal of stage presence but it had a lot of space to cover at Disney. Here her wit and charm were more accessible here and her warmth filled the room. McDonald is one of those Divas who works an “I’m just like you” angle by regaling the audience with stories of her own common reactions to the not always so common world she travels, including her 5 year-olds negative reaction to hearing her sing and her devoted idolization of Barbara Streisand whose concert she had recently attended in New York. The most charming thing of all (and the real mark of a Diva I suppose) is she pulls this off effortlessly.

There is no doubt McDonald has a great voice although when I saw her at the end of two back-to-back shows Thursday she was starting to fray a little. However, her dramatic readings of these songs show off her greatest talent - her ability to connect with their narrative and emotional content. I have wondered how all of this will play out in her upcoming excursion onto the operatic stage in LA whre she will co-star with Patti LuPone in the upcoming production of Weill’s Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, to be sung in English under the direction of James Conlon. Granted this is not Tosca or even Peter Grimes, but even with the amplification that I’m sure will be employed, the Chandler is not the most acoustically friendly of venues even for singers accustomed to singing without it. Of course, McDonald has made this kind of a foray before when she appeared in Houston’s production of Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine last year to mixed reviews.

Whatever the results, I think it is a risk worth taking and I can’t wait to get a chance to see her again. In fact, the New Year’s Eve Gala at Lincoln Center she is giving this year might be worth seeing after all…

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