Audra McDonald's does 'divine justice' to songs on 'Go Back Home'

Story by Linda East Brady
(Standard-Examiner staff)
Fri, Sep 6, 2013
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Audra McDonald

“Go Back Home”

The beautiful and talented Audra McDonald has taken Broadway by storm in recent years, most recently receiving standing ovations and a leading-lady Tony as the tragic Bess in Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess.”

But McDonald also has the chops to take the stage solo and bring a song to life. She demonstrates this with alacrity on “Go Back Home,” her first solo album in seven years, and one she has called her most personal to date.

The album features famous composers and also those lucky enough to still be around to hear her take ownership of their work, wowed by her expressive power-soprano. Stephen Sondheim famously hailed her Cadillac delivery as “one of the glories of the American Theater.” Here, she provides a high-energy take on Sondheim’s “The Glamorous Life” from “A Little Night Music.”

Another classic turn on a beloved tune is “Edelweiss,” from “The Sound of Music” by Rodgers and Hammerstein. The album closes with another American standard, “Make Someone Happy,” made famous by Jimmy Durante. McDonald keeps the song’s inherent tenderness intact on her version.

Then there are more modern pieces by the young composers that McDonald is known to champion, such as the hysterical Heisler and Goldrich track, “Baltimore.” In it, a daughter remembers relationship advice her mother put forth, such as: “Avoid navel-contemplating floppy-haired actors originally from Baltimore/ Who excel at mime, still play Stratego, and have issues with their mom./ Sure, at first they’re very charming, their attention disarming./ But give them attention in return and dear, they’ll drop you like a bomb.” McDonald finds the humor and delivers with aplomb.

Another powerful newcomer that McDonald heralds is Adam Gwon, who burst onto the Great White Way with “Ordinary Days!” in 2008. McDonald manages his difficult, poignant song “I’ll Be There” with real passion. It’s from the point of view of a young widow attempting to love again after losing her man to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. If McDonald doesn’t make you weep with this one, you best get yourself a new set of heartstrings.

This is a must-have for fans of modern musical theater, and also for those who simply love a beautiful, expressive soprano voice, doing divine justice to classic material, new and old.

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