Review: Audra McDonald Headlines George Mason’s University’s ‘ARTS by George!’

Audra McDonald’s concert Saturday night, September 28, was the culmination of a wonderful evening at George Mason University’s 14th annual ARTS by George! benefit. The concert hall at the Center for the Arts was full of an enthusiastic audience, many of whom had just been treated to samples of the work of student artists from many of the art disciplines at Mason.

Audra McDonald with School of Theater’s Erin Gardiner during a moderated conversation exclusively for Mason’s College of Visual and Performing Arts students. Photo courtesy of George Mason University.

ARTS by George! is a celebration showcasing student work in the Arts at Mason, while inviting the community to witness and support the growth and development of their creative talents through student scholarship funds and visiting artists. Student showcases included Mason Cabaret, Opera, Piano, Jazz, and previews of the musical, Rags. There were Film showcases, Art from Mason students and the Mason Community Arts Academy, as well as exemplary work from students in Arts Management, Computer Game Design, and Theatre Design. As guests enjoyed food and drink from local vendors, they were also treated to music from various ensembles from the ever-popular Green Machine. This all led up to the Great Performances at Mason presentation of Audra McDonald, one of the most celebrated singers and actors of our age.

Audra McDonald’s range is vast, and the recognition of her talent includes the honors of winning a record-breaking 6 Tony Awards, two Grammy Awards, an Emmy Award, and being named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2015. She received the 2015 National Medal of Arts, America’s highest honor for achievement in the arts. Perhaps best known as a Broadway performer, her glorious soprano voice also makes her a star on opera stages in concert halls, and as a recording artist. Numerous roles on film and television also showcase her versatility.

McDonald had met earlier in the afternoon with students to talk with them about her career and answer their questions and was straightforward and down-to-earth about her artistic path, including low points and surprises among the many highlights. During her Great Performances concert, McDonald sang selections from the great American theatre songbook, infusing her song choices with lovely stories, as well her signature ability to subtly act nuances of a song.

Audra McDonald and the George Mason School of Theater students. Photo courtesy of George Mason University.

McDonald was supported onstage by her pianist and music director, Andy Einhorn, bassist Michael Kuennen, and drummer Gene Lewin. The setlist included songs from her Broadway and Tony-winning roles, such as “Simple Little Things” from 110 in the Shade, and “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess, which just about brought down the house. Supporting new composers, she included some of their work in her song selections, such as “Ordinary Days,” by Fred Ebb Scholarship winner, Adam Gwon. This was among the most emotional pieces of the evening and she sang of love lost in 9/11 gloriously through her tears.

Einhorn’s arrangements all showcased McDonald’s stunning soprano and accented her distinct ability to tell the story in the songs. Personal stories and connections to songs included her daughter’s negative reviews of her singing lullabies, which led to a heartfelt performance of “I Won’t Mind,” by another young composer, Jeff Blumenkrantz.

Graciously inviting the audience to join her in a line or two from “Climb Every Mountain,” from The Sound of Music, near the end of the concert, McDonald then finished off this delightful evening with her tribute to one of her idols, Judy Garland, singing “Over the Rainbow.” Praise to Audra McDonald for sharing her tremendous talent, highlighting a wonderful evening celebrating the Arts at George Mason University.

Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, with one 15 minute intermission.

Audra McDonald performed one night only as part of the ARTS by George benefit on September 28, 2019, at The Center for the Arts Concert Hall at George Mason University, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax, VA. For tickets to future events at the Center for the Arts, call 703-993-8888 or go online.


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