Monday, March 10, 2014

Spotlight: Broadway Goddess Audra McDonald

Photo Credit: Michael Wilson on
Well, my day was made when announced the day before my birthday that Broadway's most talented leading lady, Audra McDonald, is set to return to Broadway as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill in April. Happy birthday to me!! This is after her Broadway hiatus of just under two years following her Tony Awards triumph for The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess. It's about time! So in light of this exciting news (and the fact that I have yet to write a piece solely about her) here is a special tribute to brilliance that is Audra McDonald.

Ms. McDonald has probably the most extensive performance biography I have ever seen. She graduated with a degree in classical vocal performance from Juilliard (of course she did!) and then began her stage/film/television career, the most significant of which has of course been the Broadway portion. She made her Broadway debut in The Secret Garden musical, at which time, she actually went by "Audra Ann McDonald." Following that, she starred in 10 Broadway shows in the last 20 years, earning award nominations for Carousel, Master Class, Ragtime, Marie Christine, A Raisin in the Sun, and 110 in the Shade, in addition to the aforementioned The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess. 

One of my all time favorite Audra McDonald performances was as Sarah in Ragtime opposite another one of my favorites, Brian Stokes Mitchell. The fact that there was a show starring the two of them for one brief shining moment makes me truly believe in everyday miracles. Watch the power couple below!

Ms. McDonald is one of those people who can hardly perform without being nominated for some award. But seriously, out of the nine Broadway shows in which she has been eligible for a Tony Award, she has been nominated for seven. SEVEN, guys! She is currently tied with Broadway legends Angela Lansbury and Julie Harris for the performer with the most Tony Awards, with five. She has won 14 major theatre awards across five categories (four Drama Desks, one Drama League, three Outer Critics Circles, one Theatre World, five Tony Awards®) out of the 19 total awards for which she has been nominated for her Broadway work alone. So it's safe to say that she's crazy talented, and the critics agree. Oh, and she's only 44.

As a Tony-voting friend of mine says, "When Audra McDonald performs, she grabs your heart, and she dares you not to cry, but you can't do it!"

Of course, there was a brief moment at the end of last year when all of America knew who Ms. McDonald was, because she was the saving grace of a performance in which many people were deeply disappointed: The Sound of Music: Live! on NBC. As Mother Abess, she moved all 18 million households to uncontrollable sobs (this writer included) when she brought down the house with "Climb Ev'ry Mountain." It was that moment that everyone looked around and said, "Why can't she play all the roles?" Now let's revisit that, shall we?

Her Broadway credits only scratch the surface of her entire success, but it is the most prominent of her work. And if you think all her Broadway stuff is impressive, check out the rest of her career! Other performance highlights include lots of opera performances, TV appearances in Private Practice and Disney's unfortunate Annie remake of 1999 (oh, forgot that existed? Good. It's best to block such blasphemy out), two Emmy nominations, two Grammys, solo concerts, and a few film appearances. Also, in May 2013, she released her fifth solo album, called "Go Home." Her most recent stage appearance was in the NY Philharmonic's semi-concert production of Sweeney Todd, which will get the "Live from Lincoln Center" treatment on PBS.

Yeah, she's ridiculously amazing.

Sally Henry // Twitter: // Facebook:

Read More:
Audra McDonald's Porgy and Bess bio
Audra McDonald on
Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill

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