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By Ken Trainor
It's not easy landing a major talent like Audra McDonald. Just ask Leslie Rodriguez, managing director of the Dominican Performing Arts Center.
"Ever been game fishing?" she asks in response to our query about how she managed it.
Every year, Rodriguez sits down with Dominican University President Donna Carroll to put together a "wish list" of possible performers for the annual early-March Trustee Benefit Concert and Gala, which traditionally features A-list performers from the world of music. Opera stars Samuel Raimey, Deborah Voigt and Renee Fleming are just a few the notables from past concerts, a tradition started 33 years ago by the remarkable Sister Candida Lund who seemed to be one of the most persuasive nuns on the planet.
Carroll, who is no disinterested participant, and Rodriguez had wanted McDonald for a long time, but she is one busy performer.
"We had been talking with her agency for the last five years," said Rodriguez, but she was always booked. Then last year, "the planets lined up."
McDonald just finished her run of 306 performances of Porgy and Bess on Broadway, for which she won a Tony Award, one of only three actors to win five Tonys (Angela Lansbury and Julie Harris are the others). The TV show Private Practice on which she starred for four years ended its run at the end of January. She just finished recording a new album, and a few other limited engagements have yet to begin. One of those is a guest run on The Good Wife, which is set in Chicago. McDonald's first show airs March 10, the night after her appearance at Dominican.
"She bounces between the stage, small screen and big screen," Rodriguez noted, from drama to musicals and even held her own recently on the Stephen Colbert Show. "She is extremely well-rounded." Classically trained, she has also done opera. "It's wonderful to watch her perform," Rodriguez said. "Her singing is effortless." In fact, it has been described as "luminous."
And how does a smaller venue like Dominican continue to attract such talent? Well, they're not that small for one thing.
"We have 1,100 seats," Rodriguez said. "That's a good-sized space."
They also have a "long and distinguished reputation" of attracting major talent, going back to the aforementioned legendary Sr. Lund. As for extending that tradition, she said, "It's a cultivation process."
Besides, Candida is "still close in spirit," Rodriguez said. "We work hard to uphold that legacy of having the best of the best. And Audra McDonald certainly fits the bill."
The concert will be held this Saturday, March 9 at 5 p.m. in (where else?) Lund Auditorium. Tickets start at $25. For the gala package, which includes the concert, cocktail reception and dinner, bump that up to $350. Proceeds benefit student scholarships at Dominican. For ticket information, call 708-488-5000 or visit dom.edu/pac.