Versatility makes McDonald a busy performer

Sing­er/act­ress/multi-award win­ner Audra Mc­Don­ald said she knew from the time she was 9 years old that show busi­ness was for her.

“I star­ted act­ing with a loc­al din­ner theat­er com­pany, be­gin­ning in their ju­ni­or com­pany and per­form­ing nightly be­fore the open­ing of the main show,” Mc­Don­ald re­called. “So con­vinced was I that mu­sic and act­ing were for me, that after high school I went to Juil­liard to study clas­sic­al voice.”

Born in Ber­lin, Ger­many, and raised in Fresno, Cal­if., Mc­Don­ald, 41, will help cel­eb­rate the 10th an­niversary of the Kim­mel Cen­ter, at 260 S. Broad St., when she takes the stage on Oct. 1.

“I’ll be per­form­ing songs by such mu­sic­al greats as Kander and Ebb, Cole Port­er, Steph­en Sond­heim and many oth­ers. There will be something for every­body.”

Mc­Don­ald said she was born in­to a mu­sic­al fam­ily where every­one could sing and al­most any one of the mem­bers could have be­come a pro­fes­sion­al per­former. But it looks like it was this young wo­man who did what oth­ers could have done but didn’t do. 

In fact, she was so suc­cess­ful in her field that by the age of 28, she already had won three Tony awards — for her per­form­ances in Ca­rou­sel, Mas­ter Class and Rag­time. She was nom­in­ated for an­oth­er Tony 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 oth­er four-time-win­ning act­resses Gwen Ver­don and Mary Mar­tin.

“I feel so very for­tu­nate to have re­ceived all the awards. The Tonys have al­ways been a very over­whelm­ing sub­ject for me. But one of the most sur­pris­ing awards giv­en to me was for Rag­time. I think that one shocked me the most,” she said.

Aside from her strong singing voice, Mc­Don­ald has 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. She’s also ap­peared on Hom­icide: Life on the Street and Law & Or­der: Spe­cial Vic­tims Unit, among oth­er shows. She re­cently com­pleted a four-year stint on the tele­vi­sion drama Private Prac­tice

A ver­sat­ile per­former, Mc­Don­ald noted that she loves every phase of her ca­reer. “I love it all. Right now I’m per­form­ing in Porgy & Bess and wait­ing to open on Broad­way in Decem­ber, so I would say that’s one of my fa­vor­ites and one of the hard­est roles I’ve ever played.

“The chal­lenge,” she con­tin­ued, “is try­ing to un­der­stand this char­ac­ter, a very com­plex and dif­fi­cult wo­man to un­der­stand., and then truth­fully por­tray­ing her. It’s also the chal­lenge of dis­cov­er­ing all the in­ner truths of Bess, which is both very ful­filling and very dif­fi­cult.” 

For Mc­Don­ald, work­ing so hard is just part of the pro­fes­sion she’s in. “This pro­fes­sion doesn’t ex­actly wait for you, so you have to take ad­vant­age of every op­por­tun­ity that comes along. Also, age be­comes a factor. So I joke that when it’s time for me to re­tire, I’ll open up an an­im­al sanc­tu­ary some­where,” she said.

In­spired by her par­ents, who were edu­cat­ors, she was ad­vised to al­ways go after what she wanted. “My moth­er grew up in the South dur­ing the civil-rights move­ment, so both my par­ents were very in­tent on mak­ing sure my sis­ter and I had the best pos­sible edu­ca­tion, be­cause to them, that was the best thing you could have to make it in this world,” Mc­Don­ald ex­plained.

And, she ad­ded, her par­ents nev­er dis­cour­aged her, but in­stead told her nev­er to settle and to work twice as hard as every­body else to achieve a level play­ing field. 

“They tried to keep me real­ist­ic, and pushed me really hard to do whatever I wanted to do and ex­cel at it. That’s the same ad­vice I would give to oth­ers try­ing to make it in show busi­ness,” she said. “Today, I think the most im­port­ant thing is to be true to your­self, which means if there’s a role you think you can play, then do everything in your power to play it. Even if the whole world says no, don’t ever say no to your­self.” ••

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