The snow outside did not stop them. As the audience filled the seats of the Staller Center on Saturday night, they gazed upon a black grand piano reflecting the blue lights above it. Some were Broadway enthusiasts and others had seen the performer at other locales. As the lights dimmed, the audience clapped softly while her pianist, drummer and cellist walked on to the stage. Then, Audra McDonald took the stage in a black floor-length, sleeveless dress and the soft clap elevated to a roar of applause.
A Five-time Tony Award winner, McDonald returned to the Staller Center after seven years to a nearly filled house to perform Broadway classics and some not-so-classic traditions. The soprano, who is known for her Broadway performances in “Carousel” (1994), “Master Class” (1996), “Ragtime” (1998), “A Raisin in the Sun” (2004), and “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” (2012). Highlights from Saturday’s concert included “Moments from the Woods,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” Craigslist Lieders and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
Between her songs, she spoke about the inspiration for each one and McDonald said that she and her music director tried to remain cognizant of the mix of songs that would make their way into her concert. She tried to mix different types of music and composers. Stephen Sondheim, Irving Berlin and a mix of lullabies made the cut.
At times, she spoke of her family. She said that each bracelet she wore was from her family and that one was from a teacher who was working at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“We thought it couldn’t be better last time and it was better,” said Frank Spencer, 79, of Wheatley Heights, who saw her at the Staller Center seven years ago.
Moments from the Woods
As an attempt to throw in classic composers, McDonald and her music director Andy Einhorn tried to figure out what song she should sing from Stephen Sondheim’s collection. The duo decided to approach Sondheim for a suggestion. He told her to perform “Moments from the Woods” from his 1987 musical “Into the Woods.”
“When Mr. Sondheim tells you do it, you do it,” McDonald said.
And she did.
I Could Have Danced All Night
As McDonald introduced this 1957 classic from “My Fair Lady,” she mentioned that she never wanted to sing this song in her concerts until her friends told her to basically get off her high horse. It did not matter that the song was too well known. As McDonald started to sing the first verse, the entire audience mouthed the words to themselves, trying desperately not to sing aloud. McDonald finished the first verse and revealed to the audience that she knew that they were all dancing in their seats and singing every word in their heads.
“Sing it out Long Island—it’ll make you feel better,” she said.
The entire audience burst into song. For a moment, sopranos took a solo and McDonald capped off the song with the legendary high note. Elizabeth Brenner, a senior English and business major, was very excited to sing along. “I go to Broadway a lot,” she said.
Brenner said her favorite part were the Craigslist Lieders. McDonald, a graduate of the Juilliard School in New York, also decided that she needed to add a traditional element to her concert when deciding on a set list. A Lieder is a song that is inspired by poetry that is traditionally in German. McDonald decided to perform Lieders with poetry from Craigslist.
“You looked very sexy even though you were having a seizure,” McDonald sang.
The audience cracked up… respectfully of course.
Somewhere Over the Rainbow
After finishing her last song, McDonald and her players took their bows and started to leave the stage to a standing ovation. Two seconds later, she returned to the stage for one song. She explained her feelings about marriage equality for the LGBT community. She was a beneficiary of the Civil Rights Movement so she speaks out for those fighting for their own rights. Judy Garland’s (The Wizard of Oz’) death spurred the marriage equality movement so McDonald saw it fit to add one of her most famous song’s as a closer.
“She doesn’t just sing—she feels,” Spencer said.
After a second standing ovation and the audience beginning to leave Staller, Maryellen Lubinsky, 67, of East Setauket tried to figure out the best part of the concert.
“How can you just choose a favorite part when it was all so good?” she said.