Friday, March 28, 2008

Audra McDonald: A Raisin on Sunday, at the Ferst

Posted By on Fri, Mar 28, 2008 at 2:15 PM

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For my money, the best part of the Feb. 25 TV premiere of A Raisin in the Sun (directed by Atlanta's Kenny Leon) was Audra McDonald. Portraying Ruth Younger, the harried housewife, McDonald brought a kind of warmth that I think shed a bit of the bitterness that informed Ruby Dee’s performance (at least in the movie version). McDonald’s Ruth seemed more tired than hardened by life, and maybe a bit more willing to play the peacemaker in that cramped New York apartment.

It’s no wonder the star of TV's "The Practice" delivered a stage performance that earned her her fourth Tony Award in 11 years, a rarity on Broadway particularly considering that two came from performances in musicals (Carousel, Ragtime!).

That speaks to the versatility of McDonald, who performs at 5 p.m. Sunday, March 30, at the Ferst Center for the Arts (map here). McDonald’s is a classically trained voice, and sometimes I wonder if that keeps her from tapping into some of the grittier aspects of the songs I’ve heard her sing. It’s as if she doesn’t let go of the formality and the structure of an otherwise perfect voice — she appears capable of doing whatever she pleases with her voice. (Her vibrato kicks into gear in a flash, and high notes certainly don’t scare her). But I would love to see what she can do in a live setting, based on the myriad clips of her on YouTube. Here’s a pretty good example of her at her most classic mode, singing one of my favorite Gershwin tunes, “Someone to Watch Over Me.”

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Don't forget: The DVD version of Raisin will be released May 6.

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