- - Sunday, June 21, 2015

An evening with Audra McDonald is an invitation to bask in her magnificent voice and dramatic interpretations that transform each song into an experience to be savored.

The versatile singer and actress is the first person to win six Tony Awards, the latest for her recent journey to tap the soul of Billie Holiday in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.” Her concert with the National Symphony Orchestra at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center on Monday is one to be savored and digested.

“The NSO is one of our country’s greatest symphony orchestras, so it’s always a pleasure to collaborate with them,” Miss McDonald said. “I’ve chosen a program based on songs with a good emotional flow by composers I love. I want the audience to listen, enjoy and perhaps be reminded of an old gem they had forgotten and suddenly see in a new light.

“The key quality a song must have, in addition to musicality and rhythm, is a story. To help me know what the character wants and why, I approach each song as a monologue.”

The evening’s rich musical array promises to alternately amuse and stun the listeners for sheer variety combined with the artist’s riveting delivery. She will honor the musical heritage of film and Broadway with beloved classics by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Lowe, Kander and Ebb, Frank Loesser, Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim and others. The joy she derives in delicious surprises is evident in her choice of lesser-known selections from “Raisin,” “1776” and “Fiorello.”

Miss McDonald always adds a distinctive touch each time she revisits a song in her eclectic repertoire, much of it available on solo, cast and feature recordings. The intensity with which she interprets every note and phrase parallels her masterful portrayal of television and Broadway roles.

Her breakout performance as Carrie Pipperidge in the 1994 revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” earned a Tony for best featured actress in a musical. The 2012 season brought her first Tony as best actress in a musical for her portrayal of Bess in “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess.”

“Growing up, I thought I’d be limited to a stereotypical African-American woman, but instead I’ve had the opportunity to play many wonderful and wide-ranging roles,” Miss McDonald said.

“Getting into Billie Holiday’s soul was a long, deep, dark, bumpy road. I wanted to understand everything about the entire person, not just the artist and the woman who took drugs. It was important to know exactly who she was because I didn’t want to do an imitation.

“To learn all there was to know about her, I talked with people who knew her and what she wanted. I discovered that she was very maternal and wanted children in the worst way. She would have been content to lead a domestic life in a little house where she could cook and be a loving mother.”

Miss McDonald’s star-spangled career also encompasses film and television. In addition to playing Young Bessie in the CBS Peabody Award-winning show “Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years,” she received an Emmy nomination for her performance in the HBO film version of “Wit,” starred in the ABC hit medical drama “Private Practice” and had recurring roles on NBC’s “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Kidnapped.” She is the host of “Live From Lincoln Center” on PBS.

During a pause in her summer concert tour, Miss McDonald and her husband, Will Swenson, will star in Eugene O’Neill’s “A Moon for the Misbegotten” at the Williamstown Theater Festival in Massachusetts.

“When the role of Josie opened up, I leaped at it,” she said. “She is a very deep woman, and I love that she has a beautifully drawn character. I want to really get to know her, and am honored to follow in the shoes of actresses Colleen Dewhurst and Cherry Jones.”

After this concert tour, she begins rehearsals for the next adventure in her nonstop dramatic and musical career, the role of vaudeville performer Lottie Gee in “Shuffle Along,” scheduled to open at New York’s Music Box Theatre next season.


WHAT:Audra McDonald in concert with the National Symphony Orchestra, Andy Einhorn, conductor

WHERE: Wolf Trap Filene Center, 1635 Trap Road, Vienna, Virginia, 22182

WHEN: Monday, 8:15 p.m.

INFO: Tickets $25 to $75 by calling 703/255-1868 or 877/965-3872 or by visiting WolfTrap.org

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