Audra McDonald brings Broadway songbook, love and hope to UVU

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It’s hard to exaggerate just how talented Audra McDonald is. She’s the winner of a record-breaking six Tony Awards, earning three before the age of 30 and being the only performer to win in all four acting categories. She’s one “O” away from an EGOT, having already secured two Emmys and a Grammy. To top all of that off, she received the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor given to performing artists, from President Barack Obama in 2015. To say she knows a thing or two about show business would be an understatement.

Audra McDonald says that her favorite job is being wife to actor Will Swenson and mom to four kids. Photo by Allison Michael Orenstein.

For that reason, seeing McDonald perform in Utah County was the experience of a lifetime. During her ninety minute show, she lead those in attendance through some of her favorite works in the American theater songbook— and there are few more qualified to guide someone through that journey than McDonald.

Along with music director and conductor Andy Einhorn, McDonald kept up a friendly conversation with the audience in between songs. She filled them in on the writers and composers of the pieces or told amusing stories from her life. One such story was of a singing competition she entered at age 13. Though she won the contest with her rendition of “Cornet Man” from the musical Funny Girl, one judge wasn’t entirely pleased. 

“You sound beautiful,” he wrote then, “but you’re 13. What could you possibly know about what this song is about?”

McDonald, who knew she wanted to be a Broadway star since she was nine years old, admits that in hindsight, the song wasn’t the best choice for a young girl. “You’ll see why about two seconds into the song,” she said with an embarrassed smile. She began:

“Well, I just put the kids to sleep…”

The audience burst into laughter. It would have been hard to hear the lines about being an “old hag” or someone making her “coffee percolate” over the laughter if it weren’t for her powerhouse vocals. 

“Why did no adult in my life stop me?” McDonald laughed after the applause.

Though the concert was nearly sold out in the 90-seat concert hall, McDonald made the occasion feel like a night in a friend’s living room, gathered around the piano. Through her anecdotes, she proved that not only does she have a stellar voice but has mastered the art of storytelling. The audience laughed and cried in equal measure. 

One touching moment was McDonald’s tribute to her friend and fellow Broadway veteran, the late Dihann Caroll. Caroll, who passed away just days before the concert, was the first ever African-American to win a Tony award. McDonald sang “A Sleepin’ Bee,” a song popularized by Carroll, in her honor. She had the room in the palm of her hand the emotion in her voice.

Through the heartwarming and heartbreaking moments, McDonald’s main message was one of hope and love. She closed the concert with a reprise of her show-stopping number from the live televised production of The Sound of Music, “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.”

“I love this song because I never thought I’d get to sing it,” said McDonald. “I never thought anyone would be crazy enough or forward-thinking enough to cast me as Mother Abbess.”

“Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” almost more than any other song, showcases exactly what makes McDonald so incomparable— an incredible vocal range, an ability to be poignant and powerful all at once, and the knowledge of how to deeply feel and convey the message of her songs.

“Dream big, and love bigger,” said McDonald, before exiting the stage to an ovation. 

While the run of this concert has ended, you can see what other world-class performers are coming to the Noorda Center this season by visiting their website.