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Hilary Scott
Audra McDonald performing with the Boston Pops Orchestra at Tanglewood, with Andy Einhorn conducting.

REVIEW: Audra McDonald and the Boston Pops: Impeccable performances

By Sunday, Jul 1, 2018 Arts & Entertainment

Lenox — Are you familiar with the song “Make Someone Happy”? Have the song’s words (by Comden & Green) ever brought tears to your eyes? If not, then perhaps you have never heard Audra McDonald sing this old standard in concert. When McDonald performs any song from a musical play, she knows the story behind it, and she knows her performance could fall flat if that story is unknown to you. At the tender age of 47, McDonald already has a lifetime of stories to tell, some fictional, some factual, and some that are just for laughs (really big laughs, as it turns out).

McDonald told all three kinds of stories during her Broadway-songbook show with the Boston Pops at Tanglewood on Sunday, June 24, and the result confirmed what we all know: that great story-songs have strange and mysterious powers, powers that can touch us deeply in ways we never expected. The best of them blindside us time after time and send us reaching for the tissue box. Which is one reason we love them so much. And it’s the reason the man sitting in front of me had to remove his eyeglasses and dry his eyes. Twice.

But on Sunday (June 24), Audra McDonald spent nearly all of her time on stage singing.

Audra McDonald with the Boston Pops Orchestra. Photo: Hilary Scott

A graduate of Juilliard, McDonald has appeared in as many performance settings as there are performance settings (Broadway musicals, television, movies, you name it). And throughout her career, there has been considerable debate about whether she is a mezzo-soprano or a lyric soprano. (She says, “Neither.”) The confusion is understandable when you hear her belt out full-throated notes in the mezzo range and seconds later ascend effortlessly into the sonic territory of a lyric soprano. She sings so well in both ranges that some listeners can’t decide what she is. Maybe that’s why she started her set with “I Am What I Am” (from “La Cage aux Folles”).

In its 133-year history, the Boston Pops Orchestra has presented more Broadway-themed concerts than anyone in or out of the orchestra could possibly remember. And every time they do these kinds of shows, it sounds as if they were born to it. If these players prefer Shostakovich over Sondheim, then they’ve fooled us all (and not for the first time). But when they perform show music with Audra McDonald and conductor Andy Einhorn, they raise the bar higher than ever, because these two artists stand at the pinnacle of American musical theater. McDonald’s unequaled stature as a six-time Tony winner, combined with conductor Andy Einhorn’s track record as a director of innumerable major Broadway productions, combined with the Pops’ impeccable musicianship add up to performances that are as good as Broadway music gets. Her fans know this as well as anyone, which is why the Shed was sold out on June 24.

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