But in her transcendent performance as
These periodic interludes in the show, which relives a night near the end of the short and troubled life of Holiday, punctuate long stretches of McDonald's triumphantly boozy, bluesy immersion in her character.
Holiday died at age 44, her body and voice broken by heroin and alcohol addiction. Every choice that McDonald makes on stage -- from her slightly halting gait and stiffness in her neck to the almost eerie way she channels Holiday's salty, decaying, end-of-days voice -- helps McDonald submerge her own robust presence into the tight confines of a fading legend. It's the kind of portrayal routinely described as tour de force.
But what makes it extraordinary are those pauses, when the words and music cease and the communication between actor and audience shifts to unspoken. That's what really got me when watching the show a few weeks ago at the Circle in the
It's a performance that has people in the
If she wins, it will be record-setting in more ways than one. McDonald already has won five Tony Awards, tied with
Not bad for someone who in high school was starring in the Good Company Players production of "Evita" at
The other record-breaking opportunity: If she wins tonight, McDonald will be the first performer to win a Tony in each of the four possible acting categories. She's already won for featured actress in a musical, leading actress in a musical and featured actress in a play. The only one she needs is leading actress in a play.
The Tony Awards Administration Committee helped set up this possibility when it decided that McDonald in "Lady Day" would compete in that category -- even though the show includes more than a dozen songs.
Not only does this give her a chance for the Tony "grand slam," but it also means that McDonald is competing in a category that many
Competition in the leading musical actress category is considered especially fierce this year, with acclaimed performances from
McDonald faces some stiff competition in her own category, going up against
Then again, some have asked: Are six Tony Awards by the age of 43 a matter of too much, too soon? Tony voters can be a little catty. Is there such a thing as Audra backlash?
Her performance has certainly caused theater critics to scramble for the most eloquent ways of praising her.
Both Isherwood and fellow Times theater critic
I haven't seen all the nominated performances, and even if I had, the Fresno connection would make it hard for me to be objective. But I can say that McDonald's performance in "Lady Day" is towering. I won't forget it. (Neither will I forget sitting directly behind
Perhaps the highest praise I can give it is that even though McDonald has star power as a performer, I found myself forgetting that I wasn't in the presence of
Which seems like a pretty good reason for a sixth Tony award. And making history.
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The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6373, email@example.com or @donaldbeearts on Twitter. Read his blog at www.fresnobeehive.com.
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