ON THE RECORD: A Complete Cabaret With Judi Dench, and Audra McDonald's "Build a Bridge"

By Steven Suskin
12 Nov 2006

Audra McDonald, as always, makes it look easy. Her fourth studio album from Nonesuch, "Build a Bridge," runs the gamut from pop to lullaby to comedy to Broadway art song, with not a misstep along the way. This collection has been described as a grab bag of songs Audra wanted to sing; if she wants to sing these songs, that's good enough for me.

Among the beauties are several selections she sang on her recent Live from Lincoln Center PBS telecast. Let us single out "Cradle and All," an exquisite song about parenting by Jessica Molaskey and Ricky Ian Gordon; "I Wanna Get Married," a tongue-in-cheek, "Leave It to Beaver"-ish ditty from Nellie McKay; "My Stupid Mouth," a song about dating by John Mayer; "Wonderful You," by Jane Kelly Williams; two by Laura Nyro; and Joe Raposo's Kermit song, "Bein' Green."

Adam Guettel, whose songs Ms. McDonald continually turns to, is represented with "Build a Bridge," which gives this album its title. This is an intriguing song, similar in style and dissonance to the composer's Myths and Hymns period. McDonald also gives us a very much out-of-context "Dividing Day" (from The Light in the Piazza), which is a highlight. Just Audra and pianist Fred Hersch, here, and the song is stunning in its immediacy.

As usual with the Audra CDs, music under the direction of Ted Sperling (who also co-produced the album) and musicians sound wonderful. Thirty-plus musicians and individual arrangers for the songs are listed, but no orchestration credits I can find. That won't bother anyone, though (except perhaps the orchestrators in question). Chalk up "Build a Bridge" as another fine collection from Ms. McDonald.

(Steven Suskin, author of "Second Act Trouble," "A Must See! Brilliant Broadway Artwork," "Show Tunes," and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. Look for archived On the Record columns in the menu of features on the Playbill.com homepage. Suskin can be reached by e-mail at Ssuskin@aol.com.)