I’ve had the ridiculous good fortune of being able to see Audra perform live every year since 2001, when I attended a master class for high school students that she held during the opening season of Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center. I remember she mentioned “my friend Julie Andrews” and I was like this is the coolest person ever. That night, we all got to attend her concert, and minds were blown like balloons. I remember hearing for the first time the incredibly fun songs “Bambalele” and “I Double Dare You” (both on her album “Happy Songs”). I’m pretty sure she sings the latter at every concert, and with dern good reason. It is SO FUN, and she clearly enjoys singing it. Also, it includes the lyric “You seem to think that half aloof is better than none”, which I adore.
I assumed the concert would be sold out, because it’s Audra, until husband was like, “Um, we’re in Spain; do they know her??” and I got nervous. But that was dumb, because who doesn’t know Audra?? The 7 or so enormous levels in the Teatro were all very full, and I couldn’t see a single open seat in the orchestra. Duh.
She began, as she does, by walking out and immediately singing her first number, without addressing the audience. I love that she is so baller that way. She began with Kander & Ebb’s “Sing Happy”, from a show that is actually called “Flora, the Red Menace”, which sounds like a period piece. The other kind. It’s an okay song, extremely repetitive, but she made it great. Afterwards, she addressed the audience in hilariously bad Spanish, thanking everyone and saying how excited she was to be there. I got nervous that the whole show would be in broken Spanish. It was easily understandable basic Spanish; that’s not the point. But the best part of Audra concerts is her storytelling, so personal and touching and lovely. Luckily, her little speech ended with “well from now on I’ll be speaking in English the rest of the night, because Spanish for me is a disaster.” However you say that in Spanish. It was adorable. Her stories were noticeably abridged because she tried to speak in more basic English so more people could potentially understand. Nice of her!
The lineup that followed included a mix of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Sondheim, more Kander & Ebb, and lots of other legendary composers of Broadway classics. She of course sang “I Double Dare You”, continuing her streak, and another super old song called “My Buddy” that she does often. In her intro to “My Buddy”, she mentions how she came upon a war veteran singing this song outside her favorite restaurant in NYC. (She didn’t mention this time that that favorite restaurant is Chipotle; I guess she knew they don’t have them in Spain. I really wanted to shout to the whole theatre “She’s talking about Chipotle hahahah!”.) The sad story of another homeless war veteran, reinforcing how shittily the USA treats them, is lightened somewhat by her promise to sing the song in the same key the vet sang it in, leading you to expect her to sing it quite low, only to laugh when it’s super high. She does say doing it in the same key is “impressive, for one of us.” I love that.
One of my favorite moments was when she sang “Stars and the Moon”, Jason Robert Brown’s song from “Songs for a New World”. Although I am the world’s biggest proponent of everyone shutting the f up during shows, I couldn’t help cheering when she talked a bit about Brown, one of my favorite composers. She mentioned that he won Tonys for last year’s “The Bridges of Madison County” and I kind of shrieked with glee. She also said he has a new show on Broadway now called “Honeymoon in Vegas” and it took all my strength ALL OF IT not to yell I KNOW AUDRA I SAW IT A FEW WEEKS AGO I’M SO COOL. I have to remember that her concerts are not opportunities for conversations. Anyway, “Stars and the Moon” was the first song I ever heard Audra sing, and so it has a very special place in my heart. I almost cried, I was so happy to hear it live. It’s a sad song about a woman who shuns love on multiple occasions in pursuit of more material gains, only to realize once she has all the material nonsense she wished for that she will never find real love again. What an idiot.
Thinking back on the playlist, I want to call every single number a highlight. Except for an almost boring lullaby here and there, there were no weak points. The absolute standout by far was that she shared her Tony-winning performance of “Summertime” from Gershwin’s “Porgy & Bess”. She sang without the microphone, as it was in a high enough operatic register for the audience to hear it well without the mic, and with only light piano accompaniment. It was pretty much the most astounding vocal performance you could ever hope to hear.
Here is a video of Pohgy’s Tony performance so you can hear a bit of Audra and then listen to Normy sing “I Got Plenty O’ Nothin’” because I love it. Also his voice breaks because you can’t warm up well before Tony performances and it’s adorable if unbelievably embarrassing for him.
One song that she thankfully didn’t sing in character was “Maybe This Time” from “Cabaret”. Although Sally Bowles is pretty much the #1 role actresses want to play in their careers, her songs cannot be sung well in the play, because Sally is supposed to be a pretty crappy singer in the Kit Kat Klub. (You can currently see this being well played (terribly sung) by Emma Stone on Broadway.) It’s a shame, because Sally’s songs are so phenomenal, none more so than “Maybe This Time”. It’s her one moment of hope and resolve in the whole show, and the song is so powerful even though it’s not beautifully sung. Well, Audra gives all of musical theatre a huge gift by doing this song in concert, where she’s free to sing it out of character and thus beautifully. Just Jesus H it’s the best. I love how, in this video of her singing it a few years ago, the audience applauds when it recognizes the opening bars; everyone is that excited to hear this song sung as powerfully as it can be outside the confines of the character.
Proving how wonderful an actress she is, the most impressive parts of the concert were her most moving, emotional songs. Along with “Summertime”, a notable song in this category was “Go Back Home” from Kander & Ebb’s “The Scottsboro Boys". We all know how I feel about that show and how depressing and necessary it is. “Go Back Home” is the most beautiful and notable song from the musical, and Audra made it lovelier than ever. More importantly, she talked about how she is so involved in the gay rights movement because her life was made possible by the civil rights movement, and how we all owe it to each other to try to make things better and fight for equality across the board. That’s when she mentioned that without the struggle of people in the civil rights movement, she wouldn’t have been able to marry her white husband, Will Swenson, who was SITTING IN THE FRONT ROW. I didn’t know that until that point. I was in the first balcony closest to the stage so I could have thrown something at him but you can’t throw a hug.
Her most upsetting song I knew was coming and yet I couldn’t do anything to stop the cryfest. I’ve heard her sing “I’ll Be Here” by Adam Gwon three times in concert now, and every time she intros the song by explaining how Gwon won the Fred Ebb award and how he’s one to watch. So I knew she was going to sing this unbelievably sad and moving and just absolutely perfect song about living during 9/11 and losing love and it still hit me and everyone else in the audience like a ton of bricks. Every time she sings this song, I think every single audience member sobs uncontrollably. Maybe less so here because of the language barrier, but there were still a good deal of sniffles.
The audience couldn’t stop applauding again after this encore. It was so nuts that Audra was forced to come out again for a rare second encore. She and her long-time musical director and pianist Andy Einhorn looked through his music trying to find something to sing, and they settled on “Over The Rainbow”, complete with that incredible introduction that I love so much. I love how many people’s faces were like “Wait what song is this…?” during the intro and then when it resolves into the familiar “Somewhere over the rainbow” their faces showed their recognition. It was a perfect final song to an absolutely perfect concert. We tried waiting at stage door to meet Audra (and Will), but after 45 minutes in absolutely feet-numbing cold we had to call it. Even I have stage door limits. Also we had other shows to see (late night flamenco!). But that experience couldn’t at all tarnish this stunning evening by the world’s greatest singer. If you ever are near one of her concert stops, you have to go.