Words cannot do justice to the voice of Broadway siren Audra McDonald who delighted London audiences with her first solo concert in over 15 years in two intimate offerings at the Leicester Square Theatre this weekend. Despite her absence from the UK, musical theatre fans have sat in envy as New York audiences have welcomed her time and again to the Broadway stage in both straight plays and musicals, where she has managed to rack up a record breaking six Tony Awards.
Her talent is incomparable with any artist either side of the Atlantic, and her finely drilled yet effortlessly relaxed performance patter created a warm and generous evening where each member of the audience could feel connected and personally vested in both her songs and stories. It's rare to see someone with such talent and accolade come across as so grounded - she never took herself too seriously, but had serious anecdotes and messages to get across - but equally she made you go home with the feeling that you'd spent an evening in the company of an old friend.
Bookending the set list with the 1960 joint Tony Award-winners 'Firorello' ("When Did I Fall in Love?") and 'The Sound of Music' ("Climb Ev'ry Mountain"), her musical tastes promised to encompass a wide range of American musical theatre composers, and took in Kander and Ebb, Adam Gwon, Irving Berlin and Stephen Sondheim - many of the composers whose work has helped shape her career.
Her dramatic soprano is able to display both technical prowess and a tender warmth, breathing new life into each new song across a varied repertoire, ably supported by her musical director in weaving a personable narrative across songs both well known and new.
Often watching musical theatre performers deliver songs out of context there's a strong feeling of artificiality, but McDonald's skill at accessing the exact moment of characterisation made you feel like you had been watching each respective show from beginning to end. Whether it be Claire's cathartic "I'll Be Here" from 'Ordinary Days', or even Fredrika Armfeldt's lament at having a stage mother in "The Glamorous Life" from the film version of 'A Little Night Music', her power at narrating a song and placing you in that exact moment is unparalleled.
As if anyone needed confirmation about what a rare talent McDonald is, I have rarely felt so privileged to be sat in a room listening to such an incredible performer deliver her absolute all on a freezing cold Sunday evening. I'm already excited to see her in the Broadway production of 'Shuffle Along' later this year, and London audiences are in for an absolute treat when she makes her official West End debut later this year in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill. Do whatever you can to see this transcendent member of theatrical royalty - London is all the better for having her here.