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Audra McDonald: Way Back To Paradise

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If it hadn't been for a minor accident last month, you'd have seen a lot more column inches for this celebrated young Broadway diva. Delaying her first singing dates in the UK, although not the release of her first Nonesuch set, the interruption could yet prove useful to her career outside her native USA, because this isn't the kind of art that makes for easy marketing, but will certainly make reviewers and listeners talk - and word of mouth has worked just fine for class acts like Jeff Buckley and the David Matthews Band.

And if you haven't heard of Audra, then the stage community certainly has: three Tony Awards for Broadway performances, Carousel (1993), Master Class (1996) and Ragtime (1998), make her a celebrated part of the revival that has made Broadway intensely profitable again in the Nineties.

For thirty years the stage musical has struggled to win back the Pop mainstream from less theatrical competition. And for most of her career, the 29-year-old McDonald has fought just as hard to establish her right to sing Classical like Pop and vice versa. Born in Berlin to a musical family, she grew up in California, where five of her aunts still tour as a gospel act, fell in love with musical theatre after joining a dinner theatre company at the age of nine, battled her way through Juilliard as a student of classical singing, and then took her magnificent mezzo-soprano and startling emotional range to a succession of nightmare auditions - at the Lincoln Centre call for Carousel she even managed to faint on stage in mid song, but still got the part - at all of which her sheer quality seems to have shone like a beacon in director's eyes.

She has effortlessly perfect pitch and diction , a distinctive vibrato, an intimidating range and the ability to infuse all her material with a gospel sincerity and fervour that makes her unique

This debut album is also a primer to the new generation of US stage composers: Michael John La Chiusa, Jenny Giering, Adam Guettel and Jason Robert Brown songs are the core of her debut album. And her astonishing, seemingly instinctive musicality lifts their post-Sondheim modern mixture of traditional Gershwinesque show tune, pungent social or political observation and eclectic, "concert art" into a spellbinding collection that remembers the past but is firmly rooted in the magpie, ironic and sophisticated Nineties.

There can't be many first-timers who can carry off inviting guests like Dawn Upshaw and Theresa McCarthy to duet with her. Nor many who can pull the composers of her chosen tracks to play piano for her, or conduct the orchestra. And if you think that there's just no way a Broadway diva is going to be singing Jazz, remember Anita O'Day and Barbra Streisand, and try a listen first.

Title: Way Back To Paradise | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Nonesuch Records

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