Audra McDonald Sings the Movies

The first time saw Audra McDonald perform live was in 2002 when she played Julie Jordan in a staggering one night only concert of Carousel at Carnegie Hall (opposite Hugh Jackman). I’ve been a fan of that voice for years. The first time I heard her sing was during the original run of Ragtime, when she and Brian Stokes Mitchell sang “Wheels of a Dream” on The Rosie O’Donnell Show. I was immediately taken with that pure, thrilling soprano. I later saw the star on Broadway in the sublime revival of 110 in the Shade.

On an unrelated note, I’m not a big New Year’s Eve person. I like to stay in and keep things quiet. So for the past few years, I’ve found myself turning to PBS for various events. One of them was a Live from Lincoln Center presentation of Audra McDonald Sings the Movies from Avery Fisher Hall with the New York Philharmonic. Ted Sperling was her musical director and conductor. The concert was devoted to Audra’s favorite songs from various films. Some were from Broadway adaptations, but many were original compositions and some which I had never heard before. I only wish she had made an audio recording of these songs and their arrangements; every number was a gem.

Perpetually hyper Betty Hutton first sang “Can’t Stop Talking About Him” in the 1950 film Let’s Dance. Frank Loesser wrote the music and lyrics. I can’t get the refrain out of my head!


She also sang “Thanks a Lot, But No Thanks” from It’s Always Fair Weather. The film, an unrelated sequel of sorts to On the Town had a score by Andre Previn, with lyrics from Comden and Green. Dolores Gray played a supporting role as a flamboyant and disingenuous TV hostess who belted this song out of the ballpark toward the end of the film (that segment looks like a subversive take-off on Marilyn’s “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”). Lyrics have been somewhat updated (“But I’ve got a guy who’s Clifton Webb and Marlon Brando combined!” That’s a genetic anomaly if I ever heard one).


For the otherwise tepid film adaptation of A Little Night Music, Stephen Sondheim reconfigured “The Glamorous Life” as a solo for Fredrika, and came up with a lovely alternative which was interpolated into the 1995 RNT revival with Judi Dench.


Finally, Audra’s encore “10, 432 Sheep” is from The West Point Story (remember that one?) about a Broadway director helping the West Point cadets put on a show. The film featured an all-star cast: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Doris Day, Gordon MacRae and Gene Nelson. Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn supplied the songs. The song was originated by Doris and the male chorus.


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