Audra McDonald hosted the equivalent of a record party Sunday at Walt Disney Concert Hall, inviting the audience to listen to the great new songs she'd discovered.
In her concert and recording work, the revered Broadway actress has tended to champion emerging songwriters from the world of musical theater. At Disney Hall, she expanded into material by singer-songwriters from the pop realm.
After referencing artsy student days at Juilliard in her introduction to Rufus Wainwright's "Damned Ladies," McDonald registered a crescendoing sense of consternation at opera heroines, Tosca and Desdemona among them, who eternally fail to heed her warnings about the no-good men in their lives.
In John Mayer's "My Stupid Mouth," she conveyed slap-to-the-head frustration at "another social casualty" caused by "this desire, I just wanna be liked, I just wanna be funny -- looks like the joke's on me."
Dipping into the amber-hued lower reaches of her soprano range and pushing gradually higher, she brought ever-evolving emotion to the moaning, mournful title words of Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach's "God Give Me Strength." Turning then to escapist fantasy, she toyed with sunny irony in Nellie McKay's "I Wanna Get Married."
Tightly in sync with a five-player combo, McDonald chose the road less musically traveled even for her rare nods to old-time Broadway, opting for the trembling discovery of the lesser-known Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick tune "When Did I Fall in Love?" from "Fiorello!" as one of two encores demanded by an audience that, after a dozen and a half songs, didn't want to let her go.