Audra McDonald showed no sign of vocal stress or fatigue at the season opener of the American Songbook series despite the flu bug that felled her and prompted cancellation of the first of a schedule three-night gig.
For the sixth concert season, Songbook now has the luxury of the grand new performance spaces at Rose Theater and the Allen Room with an expanded slate that will feature a bountiful 18 events.
McDonald boasts a large and silvery voice that is texturally bold. She’s also blessed with a warming inner strength and undeniable radiance, and she smoothly creates a cushy bond with her adoring audience. The four-time Tony winner does not confine her program to edgy art songs but more comfortably digs into a handful of Randy Newman’s compelling tunes, including the prophetic torchiness of “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” and Rufus Wainwright’s funky “Cigarettes and Chocolate.”
A varied repertoire generously explored songs from the piano benches of promising new composers, from Jessica Molaskey’s poetically pleading lullaby for parents “Cradle and All” to “I Wanna Get Married,” Nellie McKay’s fanciful laundry list of marital expectations. McDonald balances her program with some pleasantly witty excursions, best defined by John Mayer’s “My Stupid Mouth,” that offer warning enough to wisely bite your tongue.
The sole accompaniment of a guitar served a beautifully restrained take on “Bein’ Green,” and prompted by jazz baby pal Diana Krall, McDonald sang “God Give Me Strength,” a complex plea penned by Krall’s husband, Elvis Costello.
Saving a plumy show tune for last, McDonald encored with “When Did I Fall in Love?,” the Sheldon Harnick-Jerry Bock romantic query from “Fiorello!,” and it was a standout finish.
The extended Songbook series continues with the concert debut of Jane Krakowski on Feb. 1 and continues through April 1, when McDonald joins Patti LuPone and Michael Cerveris in a concert presentation of Stephen Sondheim’s “Passion.”