A funny thing happened when I listened to Audra McDonald’s How Glory Goes — I felt the urge to get Dawn Upshaw’s Broadway-themed album, I Wish It So.
A funnier thing happened after I listened to the two discs consecutively — they’re almost the same album.
Like Upshaw, McDonald is the kind of performer who can make a believer out of any skeptic. Whereas Upshaw is the opera singer for people who hate opera, McDonald is the Broadway musical actress for people who don’t like Broadway musicals.
And like Upshaw’s I Wish It So, How Glory Goes is programmed with mostly non-show stoppers, save for a requisite standard. In McDonald’s case, it’s “Somewhere” from West Side Story. (Upshaw, not surprisingly, had chosen “I Feel Pretty” from the same show.)
Broadway music is most powerful within the confines of its story. An overwrought tune such as “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” takes on new meaning when the song’s signature character reveals her true nature. McDonald, however, manages to avoid both forced sentimentality and out-of-context confusion by choosing material that ably displays her thespian abilities.
Who knows what’s the story behind “I Wouldn’t Mind” from The Other Franklin? It’s still a heart-wrenching tune regardless, and one where McDonald makes a convert out of doubters.
But for all of McDonald’s wise choices in making this album, it’s her sweet, powerful voice that matters most of all. McDonald could be singing a shopping list, and it would sound divine.
Oh, and the funniest thing about the whole McDonald-Upshaw parallels — both albums were released by Nonesuch. Upshaw’s in 1994. McDonald’s in 2000.
Makes me wonder.