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Audra McDonald takes a break from Broadway for local show

Welcome Home, Bess



Audra McDonald is one of Broadway's modern superstars, with a voice that can bring grown men and women to their knees. Just ask any of her reviewers, from The New York Times to The Daily Californian, or take a look at her four Tony Awards and two Grammys. To list the loving and glorious adjectives that are regularly bestowed upon McDonald would be exhausting and needless; suffice it to say, she is one of those rare performers in possession of not only a god-like talent, but also that utterly human ability to connect immediately and deeply with those lucky enough to hear her sing.

Singing, however, is not her only claim to fame. McDonald has been praised just as highly for her acting abilities, which are as excellent on television (she starred in the TV show Private Practice for four seasons) as they are on stage. It's her work in this latter realm that has recently splashed her all over the pages of countless newspapers and magazines: She stars as Bess in Diane Paulus' The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, a controversial reimagining of an already controversial opera. And although the show has gotten flack from many sides, most notably from the composer Stephen Sondheim, who called the revival "dismaying," none of that flack has been directed at McDonald. On the contrary, the Times' Ben Brantley singled her out spectacularly in a recent review of the production. While the rest of the cast received indifferent comments at best, Brantley praised McDonald for her complete possession of her role, saying that hers is "the kind of ownership that transforms a classic character forever." McDonald has truly become a Bess for the ages.

And now this incredible soprano and actress is performing in Charleston as part of a 20-city concert tour. Recent performances on the tour have boasted an eclectic mix of familiar Broadway standards and new pieces, including one by contemporary composer Gabriel Kahane's "Craigslistlieder," the lyrics of which were taken from Craigslist personal ads.

Charleston definitely owes a debt of gratitude to the Charleston Concert Association, which is responsible for bringing McDonald to the Lowcountry. It's fitting that the Holy City is among her list of touring stops, as she has been dwelling in a fictionalized Charleston community — Catfish Row — for months as Bess. McDonald was unavailable for an interview due to her schedule, but one could imagine that performing in Bess' hometown might, somehow, feel like a kind of homecoming for McDonald. But then, she's that lucky sort of person that seems to feel at home no matter where she performs.

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