No one has won more Tony Awards for Broadway performances than Audra McDonald, who’s racked up an incredible six since 1994. She’s also the only person to win Tonys in four different acting categories. Add to that her two Grammy Awards, an Emmy, and a National Medal of Arts (Thanks, Obama!), and it’s easy to understand why I was fan-girling out during our interview.
Of course, even if I didn’t know McDonald had ever won an award, I’m sure I would have been just as psyched for our chat. Because I’ve see her on stage. McDonald has the voice of an angel and the acting chops of a born performer; together they are unstoppable!
It was a pleasure to sit down with McDonald, just a few weeks before her performance at the Broward Center.
At what age did you realize you wanted to be an entertainer?
Fairly early, about 9. My parents had encouraged me to audition for a dinner theater. I auditioned, go it, and got bit by the bug.
What was your first professional/paid gig?
The dinner theater: I got paid $10 a week.
There are so many milestones in a performer’s life. Getting into Juilliard had to be one of those for you. Do you remember how it felt when you found out you’d been accepted?
I didn’t believe it. I thought I had blown the audition, and I flew back home. When I received a call from Juilliard the following Monday, I thought they were calling me about a fee I may not have paid. When they told me I was accepted, I was shocked
When was your first time on a Broadway stage? Did you know you were home?
Yes, I knew. I understudied for a tiny role in The Secret Garden [in 1991]. I knew I was at home when I rehearsed the first time, and the lead turned around and asked, “Who’s that new voice in the background?” The lead was Rebecca Luker.
How did it feel when you won your first Tony in 1994?
It was completely surreal. It felt like I was watching it all happen to someone else. Carol Channing was in the front row, and she had a huge smile on her face. When I looked at her, it grounded me.
You’re the most decorated Tony performer of all time. Does winning get easier?
Yes and no. You have no power over any of it, so the more you can let go, the better you are.
Do you have a favorite role?
I don’t. I look at all my roles as if they were children of mine. They’ve all been very important to me and taught me something.
Do you have a fantasy role?
I would like to do some more Shakespeare.
You’ve garnered a lot of praise over your career. Last summer Ben Brantley, theater critic for The New York Times, wrote, “She is probably the most talented person on this planet.” How does one react to that?
I can’t. I think it’s untrue and incredibly flattering.
Sing Happy, your new album [out last week], is your first solo recording with full orchestra, the New York Philharmonic. How was the process different from recording an album in a studio?
In some ways it’s easier: You just go out on stage and perform, and it’s done. But there was more pressure since I knew [the performance] was being recorded.
I, for one, can’t wait for your show at The Broward Center on June 13. What should our readers expect?
My concerts feel very intimate, like we’re hanging out in the living room, getting to know each other. The concert will feature a lot of music off the new album and, of course, some old stuff: Sondheim, Rodgers and Hammerstein, a tribute to Barbara Cook, and much more.
Catch Audra McDonald on Wednesday, June 13 at 8pm at The Broward Center for the Performing Arts’ Au-Rene Theater (201 SW 5th Ave, Ft Lauderdale). For tickets ($25–$145), visit BrowardCenter.org.