Audra McDonald

Audra Ann McDonald (born July 3, 1970) is an American actress and singer. She has appeared on the stage in both musicals and dramas, such as Ragtime, A Raisin in the Sun, and Porgy and Bess. She maintains an active concert and recording career, performing song cycles and operas as well as performing in concert throughout the U.S. She has won six Tony Awards, more than any other actor, and is the only person to win all four acting categories. She also starred in the ABC television drama Private Practice as Dr. Naomi Bennett.

    Early life and education

    McDonald was born in West Berlin, the daughter of American parents, Anna Kathryn, a university administrator, and Stanley McDonald, Jr., a high school principal. At the time of her birth, her father was stationed with the U.S. Army. McDonald was raised in Fresno, California, the elder of two daughters. She began to study acting at a young age to counteract her diagnosis as "hyperactive". McDonald graduated from the Roosevelt School of the Arts program within Theodore Roosevelt High School in Fresno. She got her start in acting with Dan Pessano and Good Company Players, beginning in their Junior Company. "I knew I wanted to be involved in theater when I had my first chance to perform with the Good Company Players Junior Company." "The people who have had the most impact on my life: Good Company director Dan Pessano and my mother." She studied classical voice as an undergraduate under Ellen Faull at the Juilliard School, graduating in 1993.

    Career

    Theatre

    McDonald was a three-time Tony Award winner by age 28 for her performances in Carousel, Master Class, and Ragtime, placing her alongside Shirley Booth, Gwen Verdon and Zero Mostel by accomplishing this feat within five years. She was nominated for another Tony Award for her performance in Marie Christine before she won her fourth in 2004 for her role in A Raisin in the Sun, placing her in the company of then four-time winning actress Angela Lansbury. She reprised her Raisin role for a 2008 television adaptation, earning her a second Emmy Award nomination. On June 10, 2012, McDonald scored her fifth Tony Award win for her portrayal of Bess in Broadway's The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, thus tying Angela Lansbury and Julie Harris. Her 2014 performance as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill earned McDonald her sixth Tony award and made her the first person to win all four acting categories.

    McDonald appeared as Lizzie in the Roundabout Theatre Company's 2007 revival of 110 in the Shade, directed by Lonny Price at Studio 54, for which she shared the Drama Desk Award for Best Actress in a Musical with Donna Murphy. On April 29, 2007, while she was in previews for the show, her father was killed when an experimental aircraft he was flying crashed north of Sacramento, California.

    McDonald appeared in a revised version of Porgy and Bess, at the American Repertory Theatre (in Cambridge, Massachusetts) from August through September 2011, and recreated the role on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, which opened on January 12, 2012 and closed on September 23, 2012. For this role, McDonald won her fifth Tony Award and her first in a Leading Actress category. This American Repertory Theater production was "re-imagined by Suzan-Lori Parks and Diedre Murray as a musical for contemporary audiences."

    McDonald played Billie Holiday on Broadway in the play Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill in a limited engagement that ended on August 10, 2014. After previews that began on March 25, 2014, the play opened at the Circle in the Square Theatre on April 13, 2014. Of the play, McDonald said in an interview:

    It’s about a woman trying to get through a concert performance, which I know something about, and she’s doing it at a time when her liver was pickled and she was still doing heroin regularly...I might have been a little judgmental about Billie Holiday early on in my life, but what I’ve come to admire most about her – and what is fascinating in this show – is that there is never any self-pity. She’s almost laughing at how horrible her life has been. I don’t think she sees herself as a victim. And she feels an incredible connection to her music – she can’t sing a song if she doesn’t have some emotional connection to it, which I really understand.

    McDonald won the Tony Award, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play for this role, making her the first person to ever earn six Tony Award wins for acting (not counting honorary awards) and the first person to win a Tony Award in all four acting categories. In her acceptance speech, "she thanked her parents for encouraging her to pursue her interests as a child." She also thanked the "strong and brave and courageous" African-American women who came before her, saying in part, "I am standing on Lena Horne's shoulders. I am standing on Maya Angelou's shoulders. I am standing on Diahann Carroll and Ruby Dee, and most of all, Billie Holiday. You deserved so much more than you were given when you were on this planet. This is for you Billie."

    In February 2014, it was reported that McDonald might star as Jessie alongside Oprah Winfrey in a Broadway revival of 'night, Mother. George C. Wolfe is linked to direct and the production would play an unnamed theater during the 2015/16 season. However, in March 2015 Winfrey announced that she has decided not to appear in the play.

    McDonald will star as the vaudeville performer Lottie Gee in a new musical titled Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed about the making of the 1921 musical Shuffle Along. It is scheduled to begin previews on March 14, 2016, and open on April 21 at the Music Box Theatre.

    She appeared at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, Massachusetts, in Eugene O'Neill's play A Moon for the Misbegotten in August 2015, co-starring with her husband Will Swenson.

    Recordings and concerts

    Audra McDonald performing at the Wright Center in 2011

    McDonald has maintained ties to her classical training and repertoire. She frequently performs in concert throughout the U.S. and has performed with musical organizations such as the New York Philharmonic and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Carnegie Hall commissioned the song cycle The Seven Deadly Sins: A Song Cycle for McDonald, and she performed it at Carnegie's Zankel Hall on June 2, 2004. She sang two solo one-act operas at the Houston Grand Opera in March 2006: Francis Poulenc's La voix humaine and the world premiere of Michael John LaChiusa's Send (who are you? I love you). On February 10, 2007, McDonald starred with Patti LuPone in the Los Angeles Opera production of Kurt Weill's opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny directed by John Doyle. The recording of the Los Angeles Opera production of Kurt Weill's opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, featuring McDonald and Patti LuPone, won two Grammy Awards, for Best Opera Recording and Best Classical Album in February 2009.

    In September 2008, American composer Michael John LaChiusa was quoted in Opera News Online, as working on an adaptation of Bizet's Carmen with McDonald in mind.

    McDonald has recorded five solo albums for Nonesuch Records. Her first, the 1998 Way Back to Paradise, featured songs written by a new generation of musical theatre composers who had achieved varying degrees of prominence in the 1990s, particularly LaChiusa, Adam Guettel and Jason Robert Brown.

    Her next album, How Glory Goes (2000), combined both old and new works, and included composers Harold Arlen, Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Kern. Her third album, Happy Songs (2002), was big band music from the 1920s through the '40s. Her fourth album, Build a Bridge (2006), features songs from jazz and pop.

    In May 2013, Audra McDonald released her first solo album in seven years, Go Back Home, with a title track from the Kander & Ebb musical The Scottsboro Boys. To coincide with the album's release, McDonald performed a concert at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City that aired on the PBS series Live from Lincoln Center titled Audra McDonald In Concert: Go Back Home.

    At the 2010 BCS National Championship Game on January 7, McDonald sang America the Beautiful for the sold-out stadium fans to celebrate the final game of the college football season.

    In May 2000, Audra McDonald appeared as "The Beggar Woman" in Lonny Price's concert version of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, performed at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, New York with the New York Philharmonic with George Hearn and Patti LuPone. She reprised the role in some performances of the March 2014 Lincoln Center concert production, again directed by Price, this time opposite Bryn Terfel and Emma Thompson.

    Television and film

    McDonald has also made many television appearances, both musical and dramatic. In 2001, she received her first Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie for the HBO film Wit, starring Emma Thompson and directed by Mike Nichols. She also has appeared on Homicide: Life on the Street (1999), Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (2000), Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years (1999), the short-lived Mister Sterling (2003), The Bedford Diaries (2006), and Kidnapped (2006–2007), and in the 1999 television remake of Annie as Daddy Warbucks' secretary & soon-to-be wife, Miss Farrell. She sang with the New York Philharmonic in the annual New Year's Eve gala concert on December 31, 2006, featuring music from the movies; it was televised on Live from Lincoln Center by PBS. In 2013, she appeared in the HBO documentary Six by Sondheim.

    McDonald appeared as Naomi Bennett in Private Practice, a spinoff of Grey's Anatomy. She replaced Merrin Dungey, who played the role in the series pilot. McDonald left Private Practice at the end of season four, but returned for the series finale at the end of season six to bring closure to Naomi's storyline.

    In films, McDonald has appeared in Best Thief in the World (2004), It Runs in the Family (2003), Cradle Will Rock (1999), The Object of My Affection (1998), and Seven Servants by Daryush Shokof which was her film acting debut in (1996).

    McDonald played Mother Abbess in the 2013 NBC live television production of The Sound of Music Live!.

    Since 2012, McDonald has served as host for the PBS series Live From Lincoln Center, for which she shared an Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Class Program with the show's producers. With this Emmy win, McDonald is now one step closer to winning the coveted EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards) as she has won two Grammy Awards and six Tony Awards.

    Personal life

    McDonald married bassist Peter Donovan in September 2000. They have one daughter, Zoe, named after McDonald's close friend Zoe Caldwell. McDonald and Donovan divorced in 2009. She married Will Swenson on October 6, 2012.

    McDonald attended Joan Rivers' funeral in New York on September 7, 2014, where she sang "Smile".

    McDonald lives in Croton-on-Hudson, New York.

    Discography

    Solo recordings

    • Way Back to Paradise (Nonesuch, 1998)
    • How Glory Goes (2000)
    • Happy Songs (2005)
    • Build a Bridge (2006)
    • Go Back Home (2013)

    Featured recordings

    • Dawn Upshaw Sings Rodgers & Hart (duet on "Why Can't I?") (1996)
    • Leonard Bernstein's New York ("A Little Bit in Love" and "Tonight" duet with Mandy Patinkin) (1996)
    • George and Ira Gershwin: Standards and Gems ("How Long Has This Been Going On?") (1998)
    • George Gershwin: The 100th Birthday Celebration (Porgy and Bess selections) (1998)
    • Cradle Will Rock ("Joe Worker") (1999)
    • Myths and Hymns ("Pegasus") (1999)
    • My Favorite Broadway: The Leading Ladies ("The Webber Love Trio") (1999)
    • Broadway In Love ("You Were Meant For Me" from The Object of My Affection) (2000)
    • Broadway Cares: Home for the Holidays ("White Christmas") (2001)
    • Bright Eyed Joy: The Songs Of Ricky Ian Gordon ("Daybreak in Alabama", etc.) (2001)
    • ZEITGEIST ("Think Twice") (2005)
    • The Wonder of Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (2004)
    • Barbara Cook at the Met ("When Did I Fall In Love?" and "Blue Skies") (2006)
    • Jule Styne in Hollywood ("10,432 Sheep") (2006)
    • Guest Artist, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir's The Wonder of Christmas ("Sweet Little Jesus Boy", "Children Go Where I Send Thee") (2006)
    • New York Pops American River Suite (featured on "Prologue/Through The Mist/Half Moon")
    • Stages, Josh Groban, (featured on "If I Love You"), 2014

    Cast recordings

    • Carousel (1994 Broadway Revival Cast Recording) (1994)
    • Ragtime (Original Cast Recording) (1998)
    • I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky by John Adams (Studio Cast Recording) (1998)
    • Wonderful Town (Studio Recording) (1999)
    • Marie Christine (Original Cast Recording) (1999)
    • Annie (1999)
    • Sweeney Todd Live at the New York Philharmonic (2000)
    • Dreamgirls in Concert (2001 Concert Cast Recording) (released February 2002)
    • 110 in the Shade (2007 Broadway Revival Cast Recording) (2007)
    • Rodgers & Hammerstein's Allegro (First Complete Recording) (2009)
    • The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess (New Broadway Cast Recording) (2012)
    • Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill (Original Broadway Cast Recording) (2014)

    Video recordings

    • Audra McDonald – Live at the Donmar London, VHS (1999)
    • My Favorite Broadway: The Leading Ladies("The Webber Love Trio"),DVD & CD (1999)
    • Bernstein – Wonderful Town with Kim Criswell, Thomas Hampson, Wayne Marshall, Simon Rattle, and Berlin Philharmonic, DVD (2005)
    • The Wonder of Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square, DVD (2005)
    • Weill – Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, DVD (2007)
    • Sondheim! The Birthday Concert, Blu-ray DVD (2010)

    Audio books

    • Alice Walker, By The Light of My Father's Smile (1998)
    • Connie Briscoe, A Long Way From Home (1999)
    • Rita Dove, Second-Hand Man (2003)

    Feature films

    Year Film Role
    1996 Seven Servants
    1998 The Object of My Affection Wedding Singer
    1999 Cradle Will Rock Blitzstein – 'Joe Worker' Singer
    2003 It Runs in the Family Sarah Langley
    2004 The Best Thief in the World Ruth
    2011 Rampart Sarah
    2015 Ricki and the Flash Maureen
    2017 Beauty and the Beast Garderobe
    TBA Hello Again Sally

    Television

    Year Title Role Notes
    1999 Annie Miss Grace Farrell TV movie
    Homicide: Life on the Street Teresa Giardello Episode: "Forgive Us Our Trespasses"
    Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years Bessie in her 20s TV movie
    2000 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Audrey Jackson 2 episodes
    The Last Debate Barbara Manning TV movie
    2001 Wit Susie Monahan Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
    2003 Mister Sterling Jackie Brock 9 episodes
    Partners and Crime Unknown TV movie
    Tea Time with Roy & Sylvia Sylvia Short
    2005 Passion: Live From Lincoln Center Clara TV special
    2006 The Bedford Diaries Professor Carla Bonatelle 8 episodes
    2006–07 Kidnapped Jackie Hayes 3 episodes
    2007–2013 Private Practice Dr. Naomi Bennett 77 episodes
    Nominated—NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (2008–2010)
    2009 Grey's Anatomy Episode: "Before and After"
    2007 Great Performances Jenny Smith Episode: "Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny"
    2008 A Raisin in the Sun Ruth Younger TV movie
    Nominated—NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie or Mini-Series
    Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
    2009 She Got Problems Herself Short
    2012/13 Sesame Street Chicken 3 episodes
    2013 The Good Wife Liz Lawrence Episode: "Runnin' with the Devil"
    The Sound of Music Live! Mother Abbess Live telecast
    It Could Be Worse Sharon Episode: "Starring Veronica Bailey"
    The Ordained Anthea TV Movie
    2014 Submissions Only Tracy 1 episode
    Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: Live from Lincoln Center Lucy, the Beggar Woman Filmed stage production
    2015 Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill Billie Holiday Filmed stage production

    Theatre

    Year Show Role Notes
    1992 The Secret Garden Ayah (replacement) St. James Theatre
    1992 – January 3, 1993
    1994 Carousel Carrie Pipperidge Vivian Beaumont Theater
    March 24, 1994 – January 15, 1995
    1995 Something Wonderful Performer Gershwin Theatre
    July 12, 1995
    1995 Master Class Sharon Graham John Golden Theatre
    November 5, 1995 – June 29, 1997
    1998 Ragtime Sarah Ford Center for the Performing Arts
    January 18, 1998 – January 16, 2000
    1999 Marie Christine Marie Christine L'Adrese Vivian Beaumont Theater
    December 2, 1999 – January 9, 2000
    2000 Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Lucy, The Beggar Woman Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center
    May 4-6, 2000
    2001 Dreamgirls Deena Jones New York Actor's Fund Benefit Concert
    2003 Passion Clara Ravinia Festival
    August 22-23, 2003
    2003 Henry IV Lady Percy Vivian Beaumont Theater
    November 20, 2003 – January 18, 2004
    2004 A Raisin in the Sun Ruth Younger Royale Theatre
    April 26, 2004 – July 11, 2004
    2005 Passion Clara Lincoln Center
    March 30 - April 1, 2005
    Wonderful Town Eileen Berlin Philharmonic
    2007 Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny Jenny Los Angeles Opera
    February 2007
    2007 110 in the Shade Lizzie Curry Studio 54
    May 9, 2007 – July 29, 2007
    2009 Twelfth Night Olivia Delacorte Theater
    June 25, 2009 – July 12, 2009
    2011 Porgy and Bess Bess American Repertory Theater
    August/September, 2011
    2012 Porgy and Bess Bess Richard Rodgers Theatre
    January 12, 2012 – September 23, 2012
    2014 Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Lucy, The Beggar Woman Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center
    March 5-8, 2014
    Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill Billie Holiday Circle in the Square Theatre
    April 13, 2014 – October 5, 2014
    2015 A Moon for the Misbegotten Josie Williamstown Theatre Festival
    August 2015
    2016 Shuffle Along: The Making of The Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed Lottie Gee Music Box Theatre
    Previews begin March 14, 2016.

    Awards and nominations

    Stage

    Year Award Category Nominated work Result
    1994 Tony Award Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Carousel Won
    Drama Desk Award Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical Won
    Theatre World Award Won
    Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical Won
    1996 Tony Award Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play Master Class Won
    Ovation Award Best Featured Actress in a Play Won
    1998 Tony Award Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Ragtime Won
    Drama League Award Distinguished Performance Nominated
    Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical Nominated
    2000 Tony Award Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Marie Christine Nominated
    Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actress in a Musical Nominated
    2004 Tony Award Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play A Raisin in the Sun Won
    Drama Desk Award Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play Won
    Drama League Award Distinguished Performance Nominated
    Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play Won
    Broadway.com Audience Award Favorite Featured Actress in a Play Won
    2005 Emmis Communications/Hot-97 "KISS-FM" Phenomenal Woman Award Phenomenal Woman Won
    2007 Tony Award Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical 110 in the Shade Nominated
    Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actress in a Musical Won
    Drama League Award Distinguished Performance Nominated
    Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Actress in a Musical Won
    Broadway.com Audience Award Favorite Actress in a Musical Nominated
    2008 Grammy Award Best Classical Album Los Angeles Opera production of Kurt Weill's opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny Won
    Best Opera Recording Won
    2012 Tony Award Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Porgy and Bess Won
    Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actress in a Musical Won
    Drama League Award Distinguished Performance Won
    Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Actress in a Musical Won
    Broadway.com Audience Awards Favorite Actress in a Musical Nominated
    Favorite Onstage Pair (w/ Norm Lewis) Nominated
    2013 Grammy Award Best Musical Theatre Album Won
    Sarah Siddons Society Award Distinguished Achievement in the Theatre Won
    2014 Tony Award Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill Won
    Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actress in a Play Won
    Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Actress in a Musical Won
    Broadway.com Audience Award Favorite Actress in a Play Won
    Favorite Diva Performance Nominated

    TV

    Year Award Category Nominated work Result
    2001 Emmy Award Best Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie Wit Nominated
    OFTA Award Best Supporting Actress in a TV film Nominated
    NAACP Image Award Outstanding Variety – Series or Special Audra McDonald in Concert Nominated
    2008 Best Actress in a Television Movie or Miniseries A Raisin in the Sun Nominated
    OFTA Award Best Supporting Actress in a TV film Won
    Emmy Award Best Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie Nominated
    NAACP Image Award Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series Private Practice Nominated
    2009 Nominated
    2010 Nominated
    2013 Black Reel Award Best Supporting Actress in a Movie The Sound of Music Live! Nominated
    Emmy Award Outstanding Special Class Program Carousel (Live from Lincoln Center) Nominated
    2015 Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Live from Lincoln Center) Won

    References

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