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Audra McDonald Dazzles at UNC’s Memorial Hall

Last Friday night, Carolina Performing Arts presented six-time Tony Award® winner Audra McDonald in Memorial Hall at UNC

Last Friday night, Carolina Performing Arts presented six-time Tony Award® winner Audra McDonald in Memorial Hall at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

There was an excitement in the packed house last Friday night for Carolina Performing Arts’ presentation of Audra McDonald. We knew she was waiting backstage, ready to come out. We could feel her presence. People were buzzing, talking about her achievements and her talent. Humming tunes.

This reviewer, who was first introduced to her powerhouse voice in the late 1990s Broadway musical, Ragtime, certainly had high hopes for the evening. In a simple-yet-flattering floor-length black dress, six-time Tony Award® winner Audra McDonald took the stage, backed by a band of three, and proceeded to blow the roof off of the University of North Carolina’s Memorial Hall for just over 90 minutes.

Opening with “Sing Me a Happy Song,” McDonald twisted her way through the American songbook, performing pieces from the mid-1920s all the way to the early 2000s. She apologized early on for what may be a “punchy” concert, as many of the performers had just returned from a trip abroad and were jet-lagged. The quality of performance, however, never faltered and Audra McDonald proved why she’s the greatest living Broadway talent working today.

McDonald has earned a record six Tony Awards for her roles in Carousel, Master Class, Ragtime, A Raisin in the Sun, The Gershwins’ Porgy & Bess and, most recently, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill. She’s also the only performer to have won a Tony in all four acting categories. At 44, life for Audra McDonald must be pretty great.

It was all very surreal to finally see Ms. McDonald, live and standing in front of me. Listening to her beautiful voice was an emotional experience. Her “Stars and the Moon” — a song that I’ve listened to her sing for years — was exceptional, and her renditions of “Moment in the Woods” from Into the Woods and “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret were unexpected gems. She also introduced the audience to pieces from up-and-coming musical-theater composers; two particular standouts were Adam Gwon’s “I’ll Be Here” and Shaina Taub’s “The Tale of Bear and Otter.” McDonald closed with “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” and gave an encore of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

It’s always an incredible experience to see a person you idolize do their thing and really shine. Audra McDonald was fun, outspoken (she defended Idina Menzel and voiced her fervent support of marriage equality), and was one of the most talented performers that I’ve had the privilege to see. It’s a night that I’ll remember for a long, long time.

SECOND OPINION: Feb. 5th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by David Klein:; and Feb. 5th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Ed Condran:

AUDRA McDONALD (Carolina Performing Arts, Feb. 6 in Memorial Hall at UNC-Chapel Hill).

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Audra McDonald (actress and singer): (official website), (IMG Artists), (Internet Broadway Database), (Internet Movie Database), (Facebook page), (Twitter page), and (Wikipedia).


EDITOR’S NOTE: Jesse R. Gephart is a Raleigh, NC-based actor, director, and reviewer. A Gainesville, FL native, he earned a degree in Theatre Performance in 2005 from Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. He is currently directing and starring in Mortall Coile Theatre Company’s Feb. 20-22 and Feb. 27-March 1 presentation of British playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell’s first play, The Pride (2008), which won the 2009 Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre. This spring, he will direct Raleigh Little Theatre’s production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch on May 1-3, 7-10, and 14-17 in RLT‘s Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre. To read more of Jesse Gephart’s reviews, click

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