In the latest instalment of The Seth Concert Series, hosted by Seth Rudetsky, this week’s guest described how at nine years old she knew she wanted to perform on Broadway. Audra McDonald would grow up to not just perform on the Great White Way, but to be one of its most successful stars, winning six Tony Awards, and the only person to ever win a Tony in all four acting categories.
UK audiences were lucky enough to have Audra in London a couple of years ago, when she performed in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill at The Wyndham’s Theatre, although you also may have caught her virtually, playing Mother Superior in The Sound of Music Live, which was recently streamed on The Shows Must Go On YouTube Channel. Indeed, it was songs from these two shows that closed the concert, ending with a message of hope.
Hope is what is needed at this time, as Audra explained the world is fighting two pandemics. One is Coronavirus, the other is systemic racism. In 1999, Audra played Grace Farrell in a TV movie of Annie, it was the first time a Black woman had played the role and Audra shared with us what that meant to her. But she also shared more personal stories of how racism affected the experience and how she found an early ally.
Experiences such as that would lead Audra to be a founding member of Black Theatre United, and a performance of ‘Go Back Home’ from Scottsboro Boys, a musical about a horrendous case of racial injustice, reminded us that this pandemic will be the hardest of the two to beat.
As is always the case with The Seth Concert series, music and song blend wonderfully together through technological wizardry, meaning that even though apart, the performance is perfectly together. Each song is interspersed with meaningful anecdotes, such as one where Audra auditioned for Hal Prince for a role in Showboat. For musical theatre fans, these little reminisces are pure gold.
Tonight’s concert enjoyed a really good mix of songs, from a heart-wrenching ‘Your Daddy’s Son’ from Ragtime to ‘The Facebook Song’ (which also has an alternative, and more explicit, title). Jason Robert Brown’s ‘Stars and The Moon’ was given the Audra McDonald treatment and was perhaps the highlight of the evening, but then again so was ‘Being Good Isn’t Good Enough’ and ‘You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught’, there were so many stand out moments, it’s impossible to choose just one.
Rudetsky and McDonald clearly have a close personal friendship, and it was delightful to listen to the pair chat between songs, a wonderful lockdown treat indeed, and Seth’s upcoming guests will have their work cut out to live up to this particularly high standard. This concert highlighted Audra McDonalds considerable talents, but also showed a side of her that’s still hurting, and a passion to do something about it.