Sunday, April 21, 2024

Broadway: Audra McDonald Goes for Her 7th Tony Award in “Ohio State Murders” Drama, A List Crowd Cheers Opening Night


You know that Audra McDonald has six Tony Awards, she’s only 52 so more are coming. And tonight, the 7th was lined up with McDonald appearing in 91 year old Adrienne Kennedy‘s Broadway debut play. “Ohio State Murders.”

The biggest problem with “OSM” is that Kenny Leon directed it, and it’s the second play of this season — starting with “Top Dog/Underdog” — that will net him Tony attention. Leon is having a moment right now after a 30 year year. Who knows what else he has up his sleeve? Plus, his curtain call speeches are becoming legendary as well.

A wild A list crowd showed up at the newly named James Earl Jones Theater (formerly the Cort) which has been transformed into quite a lovely petit palais on West 48th St. I saw next to Tony Goldwyn and his daughter, ran into Rebecca Hall and husband Morgan Spector, LaTanya Richardson chastised me for not seeing “The Piano Lesson” yet, I also spotted Kelli O’Hara, and Molly Ringwald.

At the Champagne reception following McDonald’s breathtaking performance, her husband, WIll Swenson, popped over from his star turn as Neil Diamond in “A Beautiful Noise.” I was also happy to see my old friend, the great writer Joan Juliet Buck with another terrific writer, Allegra Huston (yes, she’s Anjelica’s talented sister) and their friend, the great gold medal Para- Olympian and actress Aimee Mullins (who’s also married to Rupert Friend and has a role in Wes Anderson’s next movie, and has a resume that includes many episodes of “Stranger Things”). Whew!

Why is this Adrienne Kennedy’s Broadway debut? She’s a highly regarded avant garde playwright whose work has been produced everywhere. But a commercial venture? This is it finally. Buck and Huston, and Mullins are all personal friends plus a lot of Kennedy’s family was present. She, they say, stayed home in Williamsburg, Virginia. “She was afraid she’s so excited she’d pass out,” the ladies told me. Well, she has a few months to get ready for the 2023 Tony Awards because “Ohio State Murders” will most certainly be nominated.

Audra McDonald, you also know, is a sensational singer. But the music she sings in “Ohio State Murders” is the song of Suzanne, a fictional representation of Kennedy. Sue is a visiting speaker at Ohio State, where she recalls that in 1952, as a student, one of her two children was murdered. (This is not Kennedy’s story.) The 75 minute presentation is dotted with a supporting cast of vast talents, including Bryce Pinkham, Mister Fitzgerald, Lizan Mitchell, and violinist Abigail Stephenson. But it’s McDonald’s show 98 percent of the time. She’s riveting, devastating, and mesmerizing. Her Suzanne is so commanding that when the play ends you want her to keep talking.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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