Tony Winner Audra McDonald Surprises Audience as Beggar Woman at Philharmonic Sweeney Todd

By Carey Purcell
06 Mar 2014

Audra McDonald
Audra McDonald
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The New York Philharmonic concert presentation of Sweeney Todd, starring Academy Award winner Emma Thompson and opera star Bryn Terfel, featured five-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald in the role of the Beggar Woman March 5.

The casting was a surprise. The program did not include McDonald's name with the rest of the cast, listing "?" instead of a name. 

McDonald entered the stage with the cast to perform the opening song, "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd." She will reprise her portrayal of the Beggar Woman March 6-7.

Bryonha Marie Parham (Porgy and Bess, After Midnight) will play the Beggar Woman for the final two performances March 8.



The presentation of Sweeney Todd, directed by Lonny Price, concludes its run at Avery Fisher Hall March 8. It will be filmed for a future national broadcast on PBS' "Live From Lincoln Center." The air date has not been announced. 

McDonald earned Tony Awards for her work in The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, Carousel, Master Class, Ragtime and A Raisin in the Sun. Her work on stage also includes Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny with Patti LuPone, as well as Tony-nominated performances in 110 in the Shade and Marie Christine. On screen she has appeared in the television adaptations of "A Raisin in the Sun," "Wit" and "Annie." She is known to television audiences for "Private Practice" and "Grey's Anatomy."

She will star in as Billie Holiday in Broadway's Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill on Broadway, beginning performances March 25 at Circle in the Square.

Her solo albums include "Go Back Home" (2013), "Way Back to Paradise" (1998), "How Glory Goes" (2000), "Happy Songs" (2002) and "Build a Bridge" (2006).

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Bass-baritone Terfel (Ring Cycle, Falstaff, The Marriage of Figaro) stars in the title role of Sweeney Todd, with Emma Thompson ("Howards End," "Sense and Sensibility") making her New York stage debut as pie-maker Nellie Lovett. The cast also features Tony Award winner Christian Borle (Peter and the Starcatcher, "Smash") as Pirelli, with Philip Quast (Les Misérables, Sunday in The Park with George) in his New York stage debut as Judge Turpin, Jeff Blumenkrantz (Murder for Two, Candide) as The Beadle, Jay Armstrong Johnson (Hands on a Hardbody, Hair) as Anthony Hope, Erin Mackey (Chaplin, Anything Goes) as Johanna and Kyle Brenn (West Side Story) as Tobias Ragg.

Sweeney Todd is conducted by music director Alan Gilbert and features orchestrations by Tony Award winner Jonathan Tunick. Choreography is by Josh Rhodes.

Set in Victorian London, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, according to press notes, tells the story of the "eponymous barber who seeks vengeance on what he sees as a merciless world by murdering his customers and, with the help of his landlady, the romantically inclined Mrs. Lovett, bakes their bodies into meat pies, which are fed to London’s avid and unknowing populace."

With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Hugh Wheeler, Sweeney Todd first opened on Broadway at the Uris Theatre on March 1, 1979, directed by Harold Prince and starring Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury. The show received eight Tony Awards in 1979 — including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score — as well as 11 Drama Desk Awards and the Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Musical.

All tickets may be purchased online at nyphil.org or by calling (212) 875-5656. Tickets may also be purchased at the Avery Fisher Hall Box Office.