Audra McDonald Showcases Her Powerful Voice—and a Little Gossip—at Merriam Theater

Our thoughts on her show with Broadway expert Seth Rudetsky.

Last evening at Philadelphia’s Merriam Theater, Audra McDonald demonstrated, yet again, why she is the undisputed premier interpreter of the modern American songbook.

Her concert with all-around Broadway expert Seth Rudetsky highlighted the humility of her signature style, and rotated between soaring ballads at the piano and a talk-show like format where she discussed some intimate and juicy details of her life. We learned, among other things, she was rejected for the ensemble of Broadway’s Beauty and the Beast, only to end up being cast as Carrie in Carousel … and winning a Tony Award that same season.

Also quite interesting were some more gossipy tidbits, like the fact that a “large rodent” ran out by her feet when she made her Kimmel Center debut a number of years before, and that the Disney producers would not grant her an audition for last year’s Into the Woods film, which was followed by a powerful rendition of “Moments in the Woods” from the show.

But the evening was all about song, and Ms. McDonald delivered. Some highlights included “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz, and her rousing, goose bump-inducing interpretation of “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret.

We also found out that, when she was 9, Ms. McDonald starred as the Witch in a school production of Hansel and Gretel and insisted to her director that, after her death scene, she sing Bette Midler tear-jerker “The Rose.” Through many giggles, she then performed the song for the audience.

Mr. Rudetsky was also in excellent form last night, adding a real zeal to the conversation throughout the evening. He also accompanied Ms. McDonald on the piano, and proved to be a careful and mindful musician, while also adding a comic touch that was well-received by the audience.

After their bows, Ms. McDonald’s silhouette re-appeared on the dimly lit stage, looking every inch the diva. She then sang her encore, a gorgeous version of “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music. It was an awe-inspiring close to an evening that once again demonstrated Ms. McDonald’s place in musical theatre history.