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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 2, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 40
An interview with Audra McDonald
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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An interview with Audra McDonald

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

AUDRA MCDONALD
BROADWAY CENTER
FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS
PANTAGES THEATER - TACOMA
October 25


The Theatre Gods have definitely blessed Audra McDonald. She has won acclaim from acting on television, full-feature films, opera, and the stage - for singing and non-singing roles alike. More than anyone else, she has broken the Tony Awards record (twice) for being the ONLY woman ever to have won in the four major categories, as well as the most Tony Awards ever won by a single individual. Miss McDonald is a force to be reckoned with. As a huge advocate for LGBT equality, challenging politicians and citizens alike to recognize diversity, Miss McDonald proves she is as beautiful on stage as off. With her recent win of a Creative Arts Emmy Award (September 2015) her indomitable talents show no signs of stopping as she continues performing on stage and in concert. The Seattle Gay News was granted a 10-minute interview with this Great Goddess of Song as she continues on her touring schedule, performing in Tacoma on October 25.

Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences in becoming a performer?

Audra McDonald: I would definitely say Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand. Those were the main two. Well, Lena Horne, too. I grew up hearing Lena Horne a lot in my house.

Andrews-Katz: You're equally talented in non-musical roles, musical theatre as well as opera. Which do you find the most challenging? And which do you find the most enjoyable?

McDonald: I find opera the most challenging. Musical Theatre is the most enjoyable. I find all of them enjoyable, don't get me wrong, but I like to say Musical Theatre was my first language.

Andrews-Katz: The roles you perform are so diverse. What do you look for in the roles you choose?

McDonald: I look for roles that will challenge me, and those that help me grow as an artist. They don't have to be roles that have a lot in common emotionally, but it's more about the journey or the truth of the story. I look for roles that speak to me, whether I have a lot in common with the character or not.

Andrews-Katz: You won your sixth (and record breaking) Tony Award for playing Billie Holliday. Do you think she was a tragic figure?

McDonald: That's a tough question to unpack. It depends on whom you are asking, and I know you're asking me, so I'll say I think there were tragic elements to her life. She would not have viewed her life as a tragedy but there are people that would argue [the point]. She was complicated and had a lot of tough breaks - as well as astonishing victories in the end - given the time she lived, and the color of her skin, gender, her personal set of circumstances...she was forced to make certain decisions. She didn't have the options that someone else would have in her position today.

Andrews-Katz: Your next role on Broadway is the Eubie Blake/Noble Sissle musical Shuffle. What can you tell us about the role you play, Lottie Gee?

McDonald: She as an actress and singer in the 1920s. She was someone who had worked on the 'Chittlin Circuit' [a term used for a string of performances in certain venues allowed to African-American performers of the time] here and in Europe. She was considered established in her own way. Shuffle was the height of her Broadway success. She didn't do anything after that.

Andrews-Katz: If you could play any role - regardless of any limitations - what would it be and why?

McDonald: I think I would like to play Sweeney Todd. It's an incredible character with some glorious music. The entire show is filled with great music but that character in particular sings some glorious songs.

I think I would like to play Sweeney Todd.

Audra McDonald was born in Fresno, California and received classical vocal training at Julliard. She made her Broadway debut in the musical The Secret Garden. Next she appeared as Carrie Pipperidge in the 1994 revival of Carousel, rewarding her with her first Tony Award (Best Featured Actress in a Musical) and setting her on a course that would break all previous records. Ms. McDonald has won 2 Tony Awards for Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Carousel, Ragtime), 2 for Best Featured Actress in a Play (Master Class, A Raisin in the Sun), 1 for Best Lead Actress in a Musical (The Gershwin's Porgy and Bess), and 1 for Best Lead Actress in a Play (Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill). She now holds two Tony Award Broadway Titles: 1) as the only person to win in all available categories as an actress, and 2) the (actor/actress) winning the most Tony Awards in history. Other Broadway appearances have been in Marie Christine and 110 in the Shade (both Tony nominated roles), as well as Dreamgirls, the Concert.

Her television roles include the Peabody Award winning program (CBS) 'Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years.' She went on to co-star in Disney's remake of Annie (1999), and a recurring role on 'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit' (2000). She received her first Emmy Award for HBO's production of 'Wit.' She's appeared in 'The West Wing,' 'The Bedford Diaries,' the NBC series 'Kidnapped' and the live presentation of The Sound of Music. She also hosts the PBS series, 'Live From Lincoln Center,' earning her a third Emmy nomination. As of September 2015, she won a Creative Emmy Award.

Ms. McDonald has released five solo CDs, which have earned her two Grammy Awards. Audra McDonald will appear back on Broadway in Shuffle Along, Or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, beginning April 21, 2016.

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