Star of stage and screen Audra McDonald to perform at the 'U'

By Lauren Caserta, Daily Arts Writer
Published November 3, 2011

Most artists see the relationship between the quality and quantity of their performance abilities as a lopsided balancing act. While some choose to specialize in a single genre or style, others only lightly dip their toes into a bit of everything.

Audra McDonald


Tonight at 8 p.m.
Hill Auditorium
Tickets from $10


But for singing and acting veteran Audra McDonald, quality and quantity aren’t opposing forces — instead, they’re two equally important factors that, when fused together, allow her to effortlessly glide from the microphone to the stage to television screens. Tonight, McDonald will perform a wide and vibrant selection of songs at Hill Auditorium.

McDonald, whose credits include Tony-winning performances in Broadway musicals like “Ragtime” and “Carousel,” countless classical and operatic concert appearances, four solo albums with Nonesuch Records and a starring role as Dr. Naomi Bennett in ABC’s “Private Practice,” has made a name for herself in nearly every corner of the performing arts world.

“It’s somewhat rare for an artist to have such impeccable musical gifts, and yet be such a fine actress on so many levels,” said Musical Theatre Department Chair Brent Wagner, who will give a pre-performance talk on McDonald. “Certainly in the musical theater community and in music and television, she’s widely respected.”

McDonald’s first successes came as a Broadway actress, and she had won three Tony Awards by the time she was 28 years old. Wagner, who saw many of her live performances, including her 1994 role as Carrie Pipperidge in “Carousel,” was moved by her ability to bring new life to a show nearly 50 years old while keeping the original spirit of the musical intact.

“You felt like her characterization was someone you would meet today,” Wagner said. “And yet it was still authentic to the time and place of ‘Carousel.’ In other words, there was nothing old-fashioned about her work, yet it fit into what the writers were doing and saying perfectly.”

McDonald’s ability to span stylistic genres extends far beyond her part in “Carousel.” The singer and actress has also proven her worth as a member of more recent productions, like her 1999 starring role in the opening run of “Marie Christine,” and as an accomplished performer of classical and operatic music.

“She’s been able to bridge the gap between traditional musical theater, contemporary musical theater and an operatic or classical approach to the field,” Wagner said. “Most new works for (the musical theater) field are written for a different kind of female voice, but she’s proven that you can bring highly skilled musical expertise to a wide, wide repertoire, and that’s unusual.”

McDonald’s highly anticipated visit will mark her fourth performance in Ann Arbor and her second at Hill Auditorium. While many of McDonald’s concerts and vocal performances have been broadcast on PBS, and a few grainy videos of her Broadway performances have found their way onto the Internet, Wagner encourages everyone to seize the rare opportunity to see a master up close and personal.

“Film and television appearances can never really compare with the experience of seeing someone in person,” Wagner said. “Even if we aren’t talking to her as she’s performing, we’re not passive. We’re sharing something as she’s creating it and we exist in that moment in time, which only happens in live performance.”