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McDonald, Audra

Audra McDonald

1970—

Actress, singer

Audra McDonald is one of the American theatre's outstanding performers. Within the span of only a few years, McDonald picked up four Tony Awards in the featured (or supporting) actress category for her work in Carousel in 1994, The Master Class in 1996, Ragtime in 1998, and A Raisin in the Sun in 2004. In his review of Carousel, David Richards of the New York Times called McDonald "the real find of this production" adding that she has a "welcomingly open manner…a vigorous voice and a ready sense of comedy." In 2007, when McDonald landed her sixth Tony Award nomination, Broadway.com contributor Robert Sandla observed that Audra McDonald had become "the kind of Broadway star that Hollywood used to make movies about." Yet Broadway stardom was only part of McDonald's career; she also maintained a thriving concert singing and recording career and landed a part in the ABC network Grey's Anatomy spin-off Private Practice.

Enrolled at Juilliard

McDonald was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1970, while her father was stationed there with the U.S. Army, and grew up in Fresno, California. Her mother worked as an administrator at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, and her father, finished with his military service, was a high school principal. Musical talent runs in the family. Her parents are both trained musicians, and her aunts have toured with a gospel-singing group. McDonald joked with Barry Singer of the New York Times that if she had not shown musical ability as a child "I probably would have been sent back." McDonald's professional career began at age nine when she began participating in shows at Roger Rocka's Music Hall, a Fresno dinner theatre that showcases young performers. As a teenager she participated in Music Hall productions of Hello, Dolly!, A Chorus Line, Grease, and had the lead role of Dorothy in The Wiz. After high school at the Roosevelt School of the Performing Arts in Fresno, McDonald enrolled at the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in Manhattan. At Juilliard, McDonald focused her studies on voice and did not take any classes in the school's highly regarded drama division. Because of her lack of formal training in drama, McDonald is especially pleased when her acting is praised, particularly her sense of comedy. "Comedy is difficult for me. I'm good at suffering and dying…. I haven't done much comedy professionally, and I've never really had acting lessons," McDonald told Glenn Collins of the New York Times.

Broadway was always McDonald's first love and she was unhappy at the classically oriented Juilliard. "It wasn't me," McDonald said of Juilliard to Singer. "I had danced around the room singing to Barbra Streisand. That's what I wanted to do." Mental stress caused McDonald to take a break from her studies at Juilliard. While away from school she landed a part on Broadway in the chorus of The Secret Garden, a musical version of the beloved children's story by Frances Hodgson Burnett. McDonald then toured with the national company of The Secret Garden. She eventually went back to Juilliard and finished a bachelor's degree in 1993. McDonald credits her Juilliard training with providing her with a greater sense of discipline and with a prestigious credential that draws notice. "I think people will certainly pay a little more attention to you, just because you've got Juilliard on your resume. That certainly helps to get the door opened a little bit," McDonald explained to Chris Haines of Tony Awards Online.

McDonald auditioned several times before being cast in a much-ballyhooed production of Carousel at the Lincoln Center in 1994. The project was a restaging of a highly praised production of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical done at London's National Theatre in 1992. Reviews in New York were mostly favorable, and McDonald was singled out as one of the stellar performers. Brian Kellow in Opera News wrote that "Audra Ann McDonald works wonders with the part of Carrie Pipperidge; she also sings well." Stefan Kanfer in The New Leader, among the minority of critics who did not like the overall production, had only good words for McDonald, saying that she "possesses great warmth and purity of tone. She also reveals a comic gift." The character of Carrie Pipperidge, a mill worker in a nineteenth-century Maine town, is not a specifically African-American part and there was some criticism of the non-traditional casting of McDonald, and of opera star Shirley Verrett in the role of town matriarch Nettie Fowler. "Is this a color-blind New England town?…Or are we not supposed to notice hue and ethnicity? In that case, why was the multiracial policy given ceaseless self-congratulatory publicity in London and New York?" wrote Kanfer. McDonald dismisses the race issue. "It's a universal story, with universal music and lyrics…If these people are concentrating on the fact that I'm black …well, there's nothing I can do about that," she told Collins.

Earned Awards, Worked with Legends

McDonald won the Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Theatre World awards for her work in Carousel. She recalls her acceptance of her first Tony Award as a blur. "The only thing that really stuck out in my mind was when I got up there and I looked in the audience, I thought, ‘Oh, my God, I have to talk. How am I going to do this?’ I looked down and saw Carol Channing just beaming up at me. I thought, ‘That is just the sweetest face I've ever seen.’ And then I was fine," McDonald said to Haines.

Terrence McNally's play Master Class is a fictional depiction of a "master class" for three aspiring opera singers conducted by legendary opera star Maria Callas. In the Broadway production, Callas was portrayed by Zoe Caldwell and McDonald played Sharon, a talented, attractive student mercilessly bullied by the great diva. McDonald was hesitant to try out for the part of Sharon, which requires an impressive delivery of a demanding aria from Verdi's Macbeth. She was so frightened of the aria, a piece so challenging that even Callas herself sang it only a few times in her career, that she canceled her first audition. A week later McDonald's agent called to say the part was still open and suggested she make another attempt. She did so and, despite her lack of confidence, came through with flying colors. "She has got it all. She has such natural ability, she doesn't even realize it," Master Class director Leonard Foglia said of McDonald to Susan King of the Los Angeles Times. Master Class opened on Broadway in November 1995. Robert Brustein of the New Republic said the part of Sharon was "powerfully sung and acted by Audra McDonald."

The most valuable aspect of Master Class for McDonald was working with Zoe Caldwell, one of the theatre's most admired actresses. "She is just it for me," McDonald said of Caldwell to Kipp Cheng of American Theatre. "She's such a force of nature, on and offstage. She is like my touchstone. A ruby-red gem I touch and I get my energy. I learned so much from Zoe." McDonald picked up a second Tony award for Master Class, this time for best featured actress in a play. Despite her success as Sharon in Master Class, a role that was basically an acting assignment that called for singing, McDonald continued to consider herself primarily a singer. "I've always felt that I am a better actress when I'm singing than I am when I am just speaking. I think it's because I'm more comfortable singing. What I am trying to do as an actress is to bring that abandonment that I find in singing, in line with the choices that I make as an actress. I don't judge myself as much while I'm singing as I do while I'm acting," McDonald said to Haines.

Impressed with Ragtime Role

Among the most highly touted productions to come to Broadway in the 1990s, Ragtime is a musical version of E.L. Doctorow's bestselling 1975 novel about New York at the turn of the century. The sprawling plot concerns three sets of characters: a prosperous white family living in pleasantly suburban New Rochelle; black musicians in Harlem creating the new musical style called "ragtime;" and Jewish immigrants struggling in poverty on the teeming Lower East Side. McDonald's character, Sarah, a young black washer- woman who abandons her illegitimate child, is the thread that weaves the different characters together. To the disappointment of many theatergoers, McDonald's part, though important plot-wise, was relatively small (she dies in the first act and comes back only as a ghost figure in the finale). She did get a powerful solo number, "Your Daddy's Son," and shared a duet, "Wheels of a Dream," with the lead male character, ragtime pianist Coalhouse Walker, Jr., played by Brian Stokes Mitchell.

The ebullient and sensitive McDonald associated with Sarah's emotionalism. "She's very impulsive. Very, very, impulsive. Sarah does not think before she acts. That comes really easy to me," McDonald explained to Haines, adding that "I think the challenge with Sarah, is that she's so innocent. And she's so young in her thinking, and in her way of viewing the world. I don't consider myself to be as innocent and as young in the way I view the world. I try to wipe off the grittiness of the way I view the world and look at it through a crystalline point of view like Sarah's."

Produced by the Canadian company, Livent, Inc., Ragtime came to New York in December 1997, after playing for a year in Toronto. An album of songs from the musical was made by the Toronto cast (including McDonald) even before the show had been seen by any audience. This unusual situation allowed Ragtime to open on Broadway as a known quantity and a proven success that could survive in regional productions even if it failed in New York. Happily, the musical was a smash hit. Michael Tueth of America wrote that "Ragtime: The Musical creates a kaleidoscope whose brilliant colors glitter against a constantly threatening darkness," adding that the cast offers "some of the finest voices in American musical theater today," including the "operatic richness of Audra McDonald." John Lahr of the New Yorker called McDonald "outstanding" and praised Ragtime as "a kind of theatrical watershed: an awesome pyrotechnical display of theatrical craft and showmanship..a big, brave passionate gamble, not just with cash but with content, and it brings the American musical back to its roots as populist commercial entertainment." Written by composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens, with a book by Master Class playwright Terrence McNally, Ragtime won Tony Awards for Best Score and Best Book, but lost in the Best Musical category to the Disney-produced spectacle The Lion King. McDonald won her third Tony for Ragtime, her second in the Best Featured Actress in a Musical Category.

Career Blossomed Beyond the Stage

While McDonald remained a rising star on the stage—she won a fourth Tony Award in 2004 for her part in A Raisin in the Sun and was nominated for a her sixth Tony Award in 2007 for her role as Lizzie Curry in 110 in the Shade—she also branched out to record solo albums and appear on television and in film. On her debut solo recording, Way Back to Paradise, released in the autumn of 1998, McDonald sang 14 songs by promising young musical theatre composers, including Adam Guettel, Jason Robert Brown, Ricky Ian Gordon, and Michael John LaChiusa. Originally McDonald and her producers considered using "standard" songs by Harold Arlen. When the idea to do untested material was suggested McDonald became excited about taking a chance and quickly warmed to the notion. As she told Singer, "When it's music that fills my soul, there's just no fear." Her subsequent albums featured her two-octave vocal prowess with more songs from musical theater, helping to increase her appeal among theatergoers. How Glory Goes featured a mix of theater standards and new songs, while Happy Songs offered a variety of songs from the 1930s and 40s. With her fourth album, Build a Bridge, in 2004, McDonald broadened her appeal by singing pop songs from such balladeers as Burt Bacharach, Elvis Costello, Rufus Wainwright, Randy Newman, and John Mayer. Harvard Crimson reviewer Kyle L.K. Auley found it "hard to imagine a better album to bring her to the masses."

At a Glance …

Born Audra Ann McDonald on July 3, 1970, in Berlin, Germany; daughter of Stanley McDonald, Jr., and Anna McDonald; married Peter Donovan; children: Zoe Madeline. Education: Juilliard School of Music, BA, 1993.

Career : Singer and actress, 1979-.

Awards : Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, and Theater World Award, for Carousel, 1994; Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play, Los Angeles Ovation Award, for The Master Class, 1996; Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Ragtime, 1998; Tony Award, Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, for Raisin in the Sun, 2004; Drama Desk Award for 110 in the Shade, 2007.

Addresses: Office—c/o Private Practice, ABC, Inc., 500 S. Buena Vista Street, Burbank, CA 91521.

McDonald had landed various film roles since 1998, including parts in Cradle Will Rock in 1999, It Runs in the Family in 2003, and Best Thief in the World in 2007, but none of these parts launched her public appeal as greatly as her work in television. McDonald positioned herself yet again to attract the attention of a broader audience when she accepted the role of Dr. Naomi Bennett on the spin-off of ABC's popular melodrama Grey's Anatomy, a new program called Private Practice. An honored veteran of the stage, McDonald seemed poised to earn more accolades in the entertainment industry. "I think her future is huge," noted Master Class and Ragtime's writer Terrence McNally to Susan Freudenheim of the Los Angeles Times.

Selected works

Albums

Way Back to Paradise, Nonesuch, 1998.

How Glory Goes, Nonesuch, 2000.

Happy Songs, Nonesuch, 2002.

Build a Bridge, Nonesuch, 2006.

Films

Seven Servants, 1996.

Object of My Affection, 1998.

Cradle Will Rock, 1999.

It Runs in the Family, 2003.

Best Thief in the World, 2004.

Plays

The Secret Garden, 1992.

Carousel, 1994.

The Master Class, 1995-96.

Ragtime, 1996.

Henry IV, 2003.

A Raisin in the Sun, 2004.

110 in the Shade, 2007.

Television

Private Practice, 2007.

Sources

Periodicals

America, March 28, 1998, p. 21.

American Theatre, July-August 1998, p. 26.

American Visions, June-July 2000, p. 14.

Christian Science Monitor, November 22, 2002, p. 20.

Los Angeles Times, June 20, 1995, p. F7; April 9, 2000, p. 8.

New Leader, April 11, 1994, p. 22.

New Yorker, February 2, 1998, pp. 79-80.

New York Times, March 25, 1994, p. C1; May 15, 1994, sec. 2, p. 5; November 6, 1995, p. C11; August 30, 1998, sec. 2, p. 5; September 25, 2006, p. E1.

Opera News, September 1994, p. 62; December 14, 1996, p. 52.

Washington Post, May 7, 2000, p. G1.

On-line

"Audra McDonald," Internet Broadway Database,www.ibdb.com/person.asp?ID=52250 (July 23, 2007).

"Audra McDonald in Concert," National Public Radio,www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=7545256 (July 23, 2007).

"CD Review: Audra McDonald, ‘Build a Bridge,’" Harvard Crimson,www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=514911 (July 23, 2007).

Tony Awards Online,www.tony.org/pantheon (August 1, 2007).

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McDonald, Audra 1970–

Audra McDonald 1970

Singer, actress

Aimed for Broadway in Childhood

Made Her Mark in Carousel

Plans to Stay in Theater

Sources

Audra McDonald is one of the American theaters outstanding performers. Within the span of only a few years, McDonald picked up three Tony Awards in the featured (or supporting) actress category for her work in Carousel in 1994, The Master Class in 1996, and Ragtime in 1998. In his review of Carousel, David Richards of the New York Times called McDonald the real find of this production adding that she has a welcomingly open manner a vigorous voice and a ready sense of comedy.

Aimed for Broadway in Childhood

McDonald was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1970, while her father was stationed there with the U.S. Army, and grew up in Fresno, California. Her mother worked as an administrator at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, and her father, finished with his military service, was a high school principal. Musical talent runs in the family. Her parents are both trained musicians and her aunts tour with a gospel singing group. McDonald joked with Barry Singer of the New York Times that if she had not shown musical ability as a child I probably would have been sent back. McDonalds professional career began at age nine when she began participating in shows at Roger Rockas Music Hall, a Fresno dinner theater that showcases young performers. As a teenager she participated in Music Hall productions of Hello, Doll];!, A Chorus Line, Grease, and had the lead role of Dorothy in The Wiz. After high school at the Roosevelt School of the Performing Arts in Fresno, McDonald enrolled at the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in Manhattan. At Juilliard, McDonald focused her studies on voice and did not take any classes in the schools highly regarded drama division. Because of her lack of formal training in drama, McDonald is especially pleased when her acting is praised, particularly her sense of comedy. Comedy is difficult for me. Im good at suffering and dying I havent done much comedy professionally, and Ive never really had acting lessons, McDonald told Glenn Collins of the New York Times.

Broadway was always McDonalds first love and she was unhappy at the classically-oriented Juilliard. It wasnt me, McDonald said of Juilliard to Singer. I had danced around the room singing to Barbra Streisand. Thats

At a Glance

Born Audra Ann McDonald on July 3, 1970 in Berlin, Germany; daughter of Stanley McDonald, Jr. and Anna McDonald. Education: Juilliard School of Music, BA, 1993.

Career: Singer and actress in theatrical productions since age nine. Stage appearances include Broadway and national touring company of The Secret Garden, 1992; Carousel, 1994; The Master Class, 199596; Ragtime, 1996-. Recordings include Carousel, cast album, 1994; Leonard Bernsteins New York, 1996; Songs from Ragtime: The Musical, 1996; Ragtime: The Musical, original Broadway cast album, 1998; George Gershwin: The 100th Birthday Celebration, 1998; Way Back to Paradise (solo album), 1998. Television appearances include Some Enchanted Evening: A Tribute to Oscar Hammerstein, PBS, 1995; Leonard Bernsteins New York (video version), PBS, 1996; Creating Ragtime, PBS, 1997. Film appearances in Seven Servants, 1996, and Object of My Affection, 1998.

Awards: Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, and Theater World Award, for Carousel, 1994; Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play, Los Angeles Ovation Award, for The Master Class, 1996; Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Ragtime, 1998.

Addresses: HomeNew York City; Agent Gersh Agency, 130 W. 42nd St., New York, NY 10036.

what I wanted to do, she added. Mental stress caused McDonald to take a break from her studies at Juilliard. While away from school she landed a part on Broadway in the chorus of The Secret Garden, a musical version of the beloved childrens story by Frances Hodgson Burnett. McDonald then toured with the national company of The Secret Garden. She eventually went back to Juilliard and finished a bachelors degree in 1993. McDonald credits her Juilliard training with providing her with a greater sense of discipline and with a prestigious credential that draws notice. I think people will certainly pay a little more attention to you, just because youve got Juilliard on your resume. That certainly helps to get the door opened a little bit, McDonald explained to Chris Haines of Tony Awards Online.

Made Her Mark in Carousel

McDonald auditioned several times before being cast in a much ballyhooed production of Carousel at the Lincoln Center in 1994. The project was a restaging of a highly praised production of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical done at Londons National Theatre in 1992. Reviews in New York were mostly favorable, and McDonald was singled out as one of the stellar performers. Brian Kellow in Opera News wrote that Audra Ann McDonald works wonders with the part of Carrie Pipperidge; she also sings well. Stefan Kanfer in The New Leader, among the minority of critics who did not like the overall production, had only good words for McDonald, saying that she possesses great warmth and purity of tone. She also reveals a comic gift. The character of Carrie Pipperidge, a millworker in a nineteenth-century Maine town, is not a specifically African American part and there was some criticism of the non-traditional casting of McDonald, and of opera star Shirley Verrett in the role of town matriarch Nettie Fowler. Is this a color-blind New England town? Or are we not supposed to notice hue and ethnicity? In that case, why was the multiracial policy given ceaseless self-congratulatory publicity in London and New York? wrote Kanfer. McDonald dismissed the race issue. Its a universal story, with universal music and lyrics If these people are concentrating on the fact that Im black well, theres nothing I can do about that, she told Collins.

McDonald won the Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Theatre World awards for her work in Carousel. She recalled her acceptance of her first Tony Award as a blur. The only thing that really stuck out in my mind was when I got up there and I looked in the audience, I thought, Oh, my God, I have to talk. How am I going to do this? I looked down and saw Carol Channing just beaming up at me. I thought, That is just the sweetest face Ive ever seen. And then I was fine, McDonald said to Haines.

Terrence McNallys play Master Class is a fictional depiction of a master class for three aspiring opera singers conducted by legendary opera star Maria Callas. In the Broadway production, Callas was portrayed by Zoe Caldwell and McDonald played Sharon, a talented, attractive student mercilessly bullied by the great diva. McDonald was hesitant to try out for the part of Sharon, which requires an impressive delivery of a demanding aria from Verdis Macbeth. She was so frightened of the aria, a piece so challenging that even Callas herself sang it only a few times in her career, that she canceled her first audition. A week later McDonalds agent called to say the part was still open and suggested she make another attempt. She did so and, despite her lack of confidence, came through with flying colors. She has got it all. She has such natural ability, she doesnt even realize it, Master Class director Leonard Foglia said of McDonald to Susan King of the Los Angeles Times. Master Class opened on Broadway in November of 1995. Robert Brustein of the New Republic said the part of Sharon was powerfully sung and acted by Audra McDonald.

The most valuable aspect of Master Class for McDonald was working with Zoe Caldwell, one of the theaters most admired actresses. She is just it for me, McDonald said of Caldwell to Kipp Cheng of American Theatre Shes such a force of nature, on and offstage. She is like my touchstone. A ruby-red gem I touch and I get my energy. I learned so much from Zoe. McDonald picked up a second Tony award for Master Class, this time for best featured actress in a play. Despite her success as Sharon in Master Class, a role that was basically an acting assignment that called for singing, McDonald continued to consider herself primarily a singer. Ive always felt that I am a better actress when Im singing than I am when I am just speaking. I think its because Im more comfortable singing. What I am trying to do as an actress is to bring that abandonment that I find in singing, in line with the choices that I make as an actress. I dont judge myself as much while Im singing as I do while Im acting, McDonald said to Haines.

Among the most highly touted productions to come to Broadway in the 1990s, Ragtime is a musical version of E.L. Doctorows best selling 1975 novel about New York at the turn of the century. The sprawling plot concerns three sets of characters: a prosperous white family living in pleasantly suburban New Rochelle; black musicians in Harlem creating the new musical style called ragtime; and Jewish immigrants struggling in poverty on the teeming Lower East Side. McDonalds character, Sarah, a young black washerwoman who abandons her illegitimate child, is the thread that weaves the different characters together. To the disappointment of many theatergoers, McDonalds part, though important plot-wise, is relatively small (she dies in the first act and comes back only as a ghost figure in the finale). She does get a powerful solo number, Your Daddys Son, and shares a duet, Wheels of a Dream, with the lead male character, ragtime pianist Coalhouse Walker, Jr., played by Brian Stokes Mitchell.

The ebullient and sensitive McDonald associates with Sarahs emotionalism. Shes very impulsive. Very, very, impulsive. Sarah does not think before she acts. That comes really easy to me, McDonald explained to Haines, adding that I think the challenge with Sarah, is that shes so innocent. And shes so young in her thinking, and in her way of viewing the world. I dont consider myself to be as innocent and as young in the way I view the world. I try to wipe off the grittiness of the way I view the world and look at it through a crystalline point of view like Sarahs.

Produced by the Canadian company, Livent, Inc., Ragtime came to New York in December of 1997, after playing for a year in Toronto. An album of songs from the musical was made by the Toronto cast (including McDonald) even before the show had been seen by any audience. This unusual situation allowed Ragtime to open on Broadway as a known quantity and a proven success that could survive in regional productions even if it failed in New York. Happily, the musical was a smash hit. Michael Tueth of America wrote that Ragtime: The Musical creates a kaleidoscope whose brilliant colors glitter against a constantly threatening darkness, adding that the cast offers some of the finest voices in American musical theater today, including the operatic richness of Audra McDonald. John Lahr of the New Yorker called McDonald outstanding and praised Ragtime as a kind of theatrical watershed: an awesome pyrotechnical display of theatrical craft and showmanship a big, brave passionate gamble, not just with cash but with content, and it brings the American musical back to its roots as populist commercial entertainment. Written by composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens, with a book by Master Class playwright Terrence McNally, Ragtime won Tony Awards for Best Score and Best Book, but lost in the Best Musical category to the Disney-produced spectacle The Lion King. McDonald won her third Tony for Ragtime, her second in the Best Featured Actress in a Musical Category.

Plans to Stay in Theater

McDonald plans to remain in the theater for the foreseeable future. A reworking of Aida, with music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice is in development with McDonald most likely to have the title role when it reaches Broadway. Though McDonald has made two brief film appearances, she is interested in film and television only if a suitable project presents itself. I couldnt see myself doing Booty Call, she said to Cheng, referring to a ribald African American comedy film.

On her debut solo recording, Way Back to Paradise, released in the autumn of 1998, McDonald sings fourteen songs by promising young musical theater composers, including Adam Guettel, Jason Robert Brown, Ricky Ian Gordon, and Michael John LaChiusa. Originally McDonald and her producers considered using standard songs by Harold Arlen. When the idea to do untested material was suggested McDonald became excited about taking a chance and quickly warmed to the notion. As she told Singer, When its music that fills my soul, theres just no fear.

Sources

America, March 28, 1998, p. 21.

American Theatre, July-August 1998, p. 26.

Los Angeles Times, June 20, 1995, p. F7.

New Leader, April 11, 1994, p. 22.

New Yorker, February 2, 1998, pp. 7980.

New York Times, March 25, 1994, p. C1; May 15, 1994, sect. 2, p. 5; November 6, 1995, p. C11; August 30, 1998, sect. 2, p. 5.

Opera News, September 1994, p. 62; December 14, 1996, p. 52.

Other

Information also obtained from Tony Awards Online (www.tony.org/pantheon)

Mary Kalfatovic

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"McDonald, Audra 1970–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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McDonald, Audra

Audra McDonald

Singer

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

At 29 years old soprano and actress Audra McDonald became the first performer in history to win Tony Awards for her first three major Broadway roles. Critics hailed her as the next Broadway diva, with musical talents comparable to stage greats Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, and Julie Andrews. What made McDonalds success more striking was that she was perhaps the first African American to become a superstar in musicals. In addition to her Broadway, film, and television credits, McDonald has produced two solo albums, Way Back to Paradise, released in 1998, and How Glory Goes, released in 2000, both critical and commercial successes. Shes got a voice from God, just straight from God, actor Mandy Patinkin told the Black Collegian.

Born on July 3, 1970, in Berlin, Germany, where her father was stationed in the military, Audra Ann Mc-Donald grew up in Fresno, California. Music was a passion her entire family shared: her mother played piano and sang, her father and uncle each played six musical instruments, both grandmothers were piano teachers, and five aunts had formed a touring gospel group called the McDonald Sisters. I was hearing classical, jazz, gospel, McDonald told the San Jose Mercury News. There was no shortage of music in the house.

Like everyone else in her family, McDonald studied music from an early age, taking her first piano and dance lessons at age three. A member of her Episcopal church choir from the time she could speak, McDonald took her first formal voice lessons at age nine. That same year, she auditioned for a local theater group, Roger Rockas Good Company Players. Invited to join the companys junior troupe, she performed in its cabaret-style dinner theater, as well as longer productions, for eight years. Her sister, Alison, also joined the troupe. As one of the only African American players, McDonald faced the problem of racial typecasting for the first time. I got cast in The Miracle Worker as a house girl, a sort of Uncle-Tom-type character, she recalled to the Los Angeles Times. And my parents said No. I was upset, because I got cast, and that was a big deal. Now I know they were right. McDonald went on to play the lead in her companys production of Evita at age 16a triumph in color-blind casting. As her career developed, she gravitated toward such non traditional roles.

McDonald attended performing arts junior high and high schools, where she dreamed of becoming a Broadway musical actressa goal that she would pursue almost single-mindedly for the next several years. Although she considered skipping college and trying her luck in New York after high school, her parents insisted that she earn a degree. So McDonald attended Manhattans prestigious Juilliard School, where she

For the Record

Born Audra Ann McDonald on July 3, 1970, in Berlin, Germany; daughter of Stan (a high school principal) and Anna J. McDonald (a university administrator); married Peter Donovan (a musician), 2000. Education: Bachelors degree in music, Juilliard School, 1993.

Took first formal voice lessons and appeared in first junior drama troupe productions, age nine; appeared in title role in the Good Company Players Evita, age 16; landed role in touring production of The Secret Garden, 1993; first major Broadway roles included Carousel, 1994, Master Class 1996, Ragtime, 1998; released two solo recordings with Nonesuch Records: Way Back to Paradise, 1998, How Glory Goes, 2000; appeared in title role of Broadway musical Marie Christine, 2000.

Awards: Tony Award, Best Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical for Carousel, 1994; Master Class, 1996; Ragtime, 1998.

Addresses: Record company Nonesuch Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019. Website Audra McDonald Official Website: http://www.audramcdonald.com.

lived near Broadway while obtaining conservatory training in music.

At Juilliard, living in a seedy hotel on Manhattans Upper West Side, McDonald experienced some of the most difficult years of her life. She felt constrained by her classical operatic training, which involved rigorous courses in musical theory, ear training, and diction. Depressed and despairing, she attempted suicide at 20 years old. [That was] the winter of 91, she told the Washington Post. All my life Id known exactly what I wanted to do, and all of a sudden I felt I was spiraling out of control. McDonald spent a month in a psychiatric hospital, where she received the help she needed. In retrospect, she is grateful for her challenging years at Juilliard, which prepared her to sing the rigorous arias and scores that later captured Broadway audiences.

McDonald was not long in reaching her goals. Upon graduating in 1993, she landed a role in The Secret Garden, a touring musical. She also auditioned for the Broadway revival Carousel, and despite a fainting episode during her audition, was cast as Carrie Pepperidgea role traditionally given to a white actress. I have been very lucky Nicholas Hytner [director of CarouseL ] had the guts to cast me in a typically white role, McDonald told the Black Collegian. Because this was my first major role, people were first introduced to me in an atypical way. The role earned McDonald her first Tony Award for Best Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical.

McDonald amazed Broadway with another Tony for her second major role, in the musical Master Class, where she played a budding opera singer and student of Maria Callas. That same year she appeared in her first film, Seven Servants, again playing an opera singer. Next came a brief foray into television, where she appeared in the 1996 pilot for Cosby. But she did not take the role on the series; instead, she joined the cast of the musical Ragtime. Playing the part of Sara, she netted a third consecutive Tony Awardan unprecedented feat for a Broadway actress, particularly one who was not yet 30 years old. Winning the Tonys, McDonald told American Visions, was completely unbelievable. They were all fantasy nights. I remember hearing my name called each time and just not believing it. They are an incredible honor, but they also create pressure. Does that mean you have to win a Tony every time you step on stage? I hope thats not what people think. Its impossible to do.

Next came McDonalds first lead role on Broadway in Marie Christine in 2000, a Michael LaChiusa musical created to showcase her talents. A turn-of-the-century, Creole retelling of the Medea myth, the shows emotional, complex scorea mix of R&B, folk songs, dirges, and love songsgave McDonald a chance to show her range as a singer. But some audiences recoiled from the depressing subject matter of Marie Christine, and the role did not lead to a fourth Tony for McDonald.

Yet the sopranos talents were not limited to the stage; she was singing and acting in film and television, and in the late 1990s, she sealed an exclusive recording deal with Nonesuch Records. In 1998 she came out with her first solo album, Way Back to Paradise. A critical and commercial success, the album was named Adult Record of the Year by the New York Times. The next year, she appeared as Grace in the ABC-TV production of Annie. In 2000 she released her second album, How Glory Goes. Both recordings feature relatively unknown tunes from musicals, a genre that McDonald is proving to have continued appeal.

McDonald married her former Juilliard classmate and longtime beau, Peter Donovan, in September of 2000.

Selected discography

Solo

Way Back to Paradise, Wea/Atlantic/Nonesuch, 1998.

How Glory Goes, Wea/Atlantic/Nonesuch, 2000.

With others

Carousel (Broadway musical soundtrack), EMD/Angel, 1994.

Ragtime (Broadway musical soundtrack), BMG/RCA Victor, 1998.

Annie (television film soundtrack), Sony Classics, 1999.

Broadway in Love, BMG/RCA Victor, 2000.

Marie Christine (Broadway musical soundtrack), BMG/RCA Victor, 2000.

Sources

Periodicals

American Visions, June/July 2000, p. 14.

Black Collegian, February 2000, p. 168.

Los Angeles Times, April 9, 2000.

Newsweek, December 13, 1999.

New York Times, March 12, 2000.

San Jose Mercury News, July 18, 2000.

Washington Post, May 7, 2000, p. G1.

Online

Audra McDonald Official Website, http://www.audra-mcdonald.com (December 5, 2001).

Wendy Kagan

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McDonald, Audra

AUDRA McDONALD

Born: Berlin, Germany, 3 July 1970

Genre: Vocal

Best-selling album since 1990: How Glory Goes (2000)


Audra McDonald's shining, expressive soprano and interpretive intelligence made her one of the brightest talents to emerge on the Broadway musical theater scene during the 1990s. Combining an opera singer's sophistication with the bold delivery of a Broadway and pop performer, McDonald achieved a vocal precision and sensitivity rare in contemporary music. By the end of the decade, her talent and versatility had allowed her to make successful transitions into television, film, and, most notably, recordings.

Born in Germany but raised in Fresno, California, McDonald began performing in local dinner theater productions at the age of nine. After attending the Roosevelt School of the Performing Arts in Fresno, she enrolled at the renowned Juilliard School of Music in New York but eventually became frustrated by the school's heavy emphasis on the classical, as opposed to popular, music repertory. Although she would later return to complete her degree, McDonald left Juilliard to accept a small role in the Broadway musical The Secret Garden (1991). Her big break came in 1993, when, despite fainting from nervousness during her audition, she was cast as Carrie Pipperidge in a Broadway revival of the classic 1945 musical Carousel. One of the few African-American actresses to play Carrie, McDonald imbued the role with a youthful luminosity, winning Broadway's prestigious Tony Award in 1994. In 1996 she earned a second Tony for her portrayal of a headstrong opera student in Terrence McNally's play Master Class.

The 1990s were exciting years for musical theater, with young composers such as Michael John LaChiusa, Adam Guettel, Ricky Ian Gordon, and Jason Robert Brown infusing new life into the idiom through dark narrative themes and musical elements borrowed from rock, pop, and R&B. As a performer McDonald was at the fore-front of this movement, acknowledging its influence on her first album, Way Back to Paradise (1998), a collection of songs written by all four composers. From a commercial perspective this is a risky venture, since neither the composers nor their works are well known to the general public. Furthermore the songs, often featuring dissonant melodies and minimalist production, are largely inaccessible compared with the easy tunefulness of most pop music. In spite of these challenges, the album is a moving emotional statement tempered by McDonald's technical refinement. The singer is especially impressive on the three songs by Gordon, composed to poems by great African-American writer Langston Hughes. On "Dream Variations" her supple, high soprano soars joyously above the arrangement, bringing to life the majesty of the lyrics: "to make my arms wide in the face of the sun, dance, whirl. . . ." "Song for a Dark Girl" is a haunting account of a southern lynching that McDonald builds with a mounting sense of tragedy, while "Daybreak in Alabama" uses the metaphor of multicolored flowers to evoke a dream of racial unity. Like Hughes, McDonald within these short pieces conveys a sweeping sense of drama, a summation of the multiple joys and tragedies of African-American life. With her mature control of vocal dynamics and shading, she expresses happiness and outrage with equal power.

On her follow-up album, How Glory Goes (2000), McDonald combines older, well-known show tunes with contemporary material, performing the standard "Bill" with heartbreaking sincerity. By this time McDonald had also proven her skills as an accomplished dramatic actress, appearing in the 2001 television version of the award-winning play Wit.

Expertly balancing the precision of classical singing, the flashy glamour of Broadway, and the directness of pop, McDonald has carved out her own musical niche, championing the work of a talented generation of young composers. In the process she has established her own reputation as a gifted singer with the confidence to handle a wide range of styles and material.

SELECTIVE DISCOGRAPHY:

Way Back to Paradise (Nonesuch, 1998); How Glory Goes (Nonesuch, 2000); Happy Songs (Nonesuch, 2002).

WEBSITE:

www.audra-mcdonald.com.

david freeland

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"McDonald, Audra." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"McDonald, Audra." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/mcdonald-audra