“I can’t believe this is happening!!” So said seven-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald, probably even walking a mile in her heels. The 44-year-old singer-actress’ show – The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess – was the surprise choice for the 2019 Tony Awards. No disrespect to The Playbill Award, which other contenders deemed unworthy, but the woman who’s won five of these awards and one Emmy clearly went all out to win here.
“It feels incredible,” she said. “I have no words to express what it means to me.” It was hard to imagine another actress playing Porgy, a colorful swamp resident, who feasts on Fats Waller-style ragtime compositions, drowning in his own sumptuous vocal flourishes, but that’s what McDonald does, making her character fun and vulnerable, teetering between saviour and shaman.
On a clear winter evening, along with several current and former cast members from “Porgy,” in front of City Center, she was joined by choreographer Peggy Hickey, costume designer Gregg Barnes, music director James Meehan, and Laura Benanti as banjo-trombonist-and-singer Bess, who’s pursued by three handsome suitors. They were the first of many stars on hand to introduce the show, which happened to start just a couple of weeks after the Tonys themselves were held there. (As Audra had mentioned in an interview after her win, it’s a pretty good time to be an actor in New York.)
Broadway stars at the Tony Awards
Suffice it to say there were plenty of reasons to be excited, even though live TV singing is not always a cinch. First off, the guy, and woman, who’ve created the best musical of the year were right on time. Yes, Bareilles, she of “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You” fame, had already performed the score twice, both with the cast of The Book of Mormon, one of her and composer Jason Robert Brown’s biggest hits, but this was her big chance.
Plus, how could you not love Lady Gaga, not only the powerhouse singer and artist, but also Broadway’s first-ever “Supreme Diva”? The outspoken pop superstar’s role in the production as Porgy’s mistress, Delilah, turned out to be more complicated than originally planned, but it was still overwhelming. “Porgy and Bess” is one of the few shows that gets through its entire run without a sexual twist, but Gaga made it happen. As her emotional “Summertime” reached its emotional peak, I’m sure many same-sex couples brought their partners to tears.
Speaking of her co-stars, Benjamin Bratt is a terrific Sharla in this crowd-pleasing blend of performances by the cast as the two men carrying out the intended murder of Porgy, and an excellent cameo by several-time Tony winner Liev Schreiber (who played Porgy’s well-appointed boss), among others. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the hit show’s official Broadway cast album, which features long moments of silence.
Broadway stars discuss “Porgy and Bess”
Following the complete run of Porgy and Bess on Broadway, only the 16 other show musicals nominated for a Tony will enjoy a limited off-Broadway run. But you can hear them live as the 2018 Tony nominees take the stage. Since the Tonys were held in mid-June, that includes other hits, like Lucky Eugene, You Can’t Take It With You, and Bein’ Green. Plus, those who put on musicals regularly already have their 2016-17 seasons booked. Or perhaps they won’t be making it to New York for the Tonys this year.