Audra McDonald Balances NBC's 'Sound of Music' With Tour

Jemal Countess/WireImage for Tony Award Productions
Audra McDonald

Full cast rehearsals begin today (Oct. 14) in New York for NBC's live "The Sound of Music," bringing together Carrie Underwood, Stephen Moyer, Laura Benanti and Audra McDonald, who is squeezing in rehearsals around a national concert tour.

"When you consider that this airs Dec. 5, that's about the same amount of time you would rehearse a Broadway show," says McDonald, who will portray Mother Abbess, a distant cry from her most recent TV performance -- Billy Idols "White Wedding" on "The Colbert Report."

The "Sound of Music" producers, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, are staging the original stage version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, which gives McDonald a duet with Maria (Underwood) on "My Favorite Things" in addition to "Climb Every Mountain" and "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria."

"I certainly never thought I'd be cast in 'The Sound of Music,'" says McDonald, whose five Tonys include awards for "Porgy and Bess" and "Carousel." "I say that with humor, but with great respect for Craig and Neil for thinking of me in this to be a part of this production.

"It certainly was beloved in my household and we would watch it every year when it came on television. We got our popcorn or TV dinners and little cups of Jell-O and watched. It's exciting to bring it to a whole new audience."

 October and November is largely full of concert dates, among them stops in Austin, Texas (Long Center on Oct. 20), Los Angeles (Oct. 26 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion), and the Sheldon in St. Louis (Nov. 15). About half of the show is songs from her most recent album, "Go Back Home," along with favorites of hers from the Great American Songbook and Broadway.

"I actually don't do a lot of stuff from shows that I've been in. I rarely sing 'Mr. Snow' (from 'Carousel') in concert, never anything from 'Marie Christine.' A lot of things don't work out of context."

A few songs make it into every show – "a concert would feel strange without them," she says of "When Did I Fall in Love?" and "Stars and the Moon" – but each night on a tour "depends on my mood."

"We always have a set list, but there are times when we get out there and I turn to my music director and I'll say 'let's skip that one,'" she says, and calls for a replacement on the spot. "It really depends on my mood, unfortunately."