ON THE RECORD: The New Broadway Cast Album of Kinky Boots and Audra McDonald's "Go Back Home"

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04 Aug 2013

Cover art
Audra McDonald: Go Back Home [Nonesuch]

One of the advantages of being a critic-at-large in Manhattan is the opportunity to see repeated performances from favored performers. Folks like Barbara Cook, Audra McDonald and John Pizzarelli — in cabaret or on the concert stage — never fail to enthrall their audiences, present company included. It can be especially magical to watch their current act more than once, performing the same songs and the same patter. McDonald can stand there and make you think she is absolutely, unquestionably doing it the first time, even when you've seen her do it before.

Thus, I had heard most of the songs on McDonald's new recording, "Go Back Home," twice before first pressing the play button. Sitting in Carnegie in October 2011 and at Avery Fisher last May, I repeatedly thought, "Well, that's a song I want on my iPod." And now I have them.

"Go Back Home," of course, is the beauty John Kander and Fred Ebb stunned us with midway through The Scottsboro Boys. I say "of course," but I am well aware that too many theatre lovers were unable to get to see that musical during its brief run in 2010. (Don't blame the show or the production or the producers; chalk it up to a lack of appeal to the mass audience.) The song is extra-special, with Kander's modulation coming out of the bridge — not merely for effect, but illuminating the dreams of the character represented in Ebb's lyric — lifting this gem to pure perfection. Among the other tracks is another late-and-little-known Kander and Ebb ballad: "First You Dream" from Steel Pier. In the show, the song is sung by a ghostly pilot who died in a plane crash. In concert, McDonald dedicated the song to her father who died while testing an experimental aircraft in 2007.

Other tracks which stand out include "The Glamorous Life" (not the one from Sondheim's A Little Night Music, but the different and enchanting one he wrote for the film version); Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler's wry "Baltimore," cautioning listeners to "avoid navel-contemplating floppy-haired actors originally from Baltimore"; Adam Guettel's "Migratory V" from "Saturn Returns/Myths and Hymns" (which McDonald did not sing on the studio cast recording of that score); "Some Days," by Steven Marzullo, set to text by James Baldwin; and Comden, Green and Styne's "Make Someone Happy." Andy Einhorn does a fine job as musical director, also adapting some of the orchestrations for the recording; others come from Bruce Coughlin.



Most astonishing is Adam Gwon's "I'll Be Here," from the Roundabout's 2009 experimental musical Ordinary Days. I have heard this song about a dozen times now, on the original cast album, in concert, and on this recording. Even now, I can't listen to it without feeling a jolt. Audra does it especially well; I remember how the audience at both Carnegie and Avery Fisher gasped as the power of the song hit them. (On both occasions, McDonald introduced Gwon, who was sitting in the audience.)

To those of you who decide not to get a copy of "Go Back Home," I would suggest that you at least download "I'll Be Here." And while you're at it, also get the title song (Kander and Ebb's "Go Back Home"). You won't, I dare say, be disappointed.

(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes" as well as “The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations,” “Second Act Trouble,” the "Broadway Yearbook" series and the “Opening Night on Broadway” books. He also writes the Aisle View blog at The Huffington Post. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)

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