Audra McDonald doesn’t know how to do anything but be great. She sings. She acts. The breadth of her unparalleled success has skyrocketed McDonald to recognition as entertainment royalty. Her unprecedented six Tony Awards, five Drama Desk Awards and Emmy honor tells you a lot about the type of thespian she is.
When she took home the 2014 Tony Award for her portrayal of Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, McDonald knocked the socks off those listening and watching her give her emotional acceptance speech, an homage to the great women that paved the way for her.
“I want to thank all the shoulders of the strong and brave and courageous women that I am standing on,” McDonald said. “I am standing on Lena Horne’s shoulders. I am standing on Maya Angelou’s shoulders. I’m 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.”
McDonald’s nod towards the legendary Holiday didn’t stop there. She re-created her Holliday role in the 2016 television adaption of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill. She also recorded an album of the same name as her tribute to Holiday received the trifecta effect. Now with a recurring role in the television drama, The Good Fight, McDonald’s Julliard School-trained versatility is well-versed across the acting board.
According to IMDB, McDonald has 35 credits attached to her filmography, including the Broadway star’s role in Beauty and the Beast. But it is her work on stage that has garnered international buzz. Besides winning her award-winning role in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, McDonald has wowed the theatrical world with her performances in Ragtime, A Raisin in the Sun, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, Carousel, and Terrence McNally’s Master Class, all of which she has captured a Tony Award for.
That’s some impressive stuff. However, as magnificent as McDonald has been as a well-accomplished actor, belting away songs is perhaps where the luminous storyteller is at her best. Singing is what McDonald is known for. It is what she does. It has been her operatic, blues-tinged voice that has paved the way for McDonald to have other entertainment avenues open up for her. She hasn’t forgotten that either.
“I love film and television, but I will never give up live performing,” McDonald told the Oklahoman in 2017. “It’s where I first started, and it’s where I feel the most comfortable.”
To stay planted in her musical roots, McDonald pops out musical recordings much the same way she can hit a Billie Holiday tune. So far, McDonald has recorded 23 albums that she lists under her belt. As she zips through her North American concert tour, including West Coast stops in Costa Mesa, California (May 11, Segerstrom Center for the Arts), Los Angeles (May 20, Audra McDonald with the Los Angeles Philharmonic), and in her hometown of Fresno (May 26, Audra McDonald with the Fresno Philharmonic), there is no telling what to expect from the Audra McDonald experience, except maybe a dash of greatness.
“That sense of excitement, in which she tugs a song forward emotionally, is inherent in the quickness and tang of her vibrato, as though feelings are pouring out of her almost faster than they can be reined in,” the New York Times wrote after her performance at Carnegie Hall.
When it comes to interpreting music through her dynamic vocals, McDonald, who is classically-trained, is all over the map. There is no such thing as putting McDonald in a box and checking it. Name a musical genre-contemporary, classical, opera, blues, cabaret, Broadway-McDonald can easily go there. This is why she is a once-in-a-lifetime performer.
“The truth of my life resonates quite deeply in my art, and all of that, especially now, is about my family,” McDonald said in a 2018 interview with Utah’s Desert News. “They influence every part of it, from song selection to the emotion that comes up while I’m singing to lessons that can be learned by certain songs that I sing that can be taught ….”
Audra McDonald’s 2018 North American Concert Tour includes some of the following Southern California locations:
May 11-An Evening with Audra McDonald, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive Costa Mesa, CA 92626 T (714) 556-2121 F (714) 556-8984 SCFTA.org
May 15-An Evening with Audra McDonald, The Granada Theatre, 1214 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101 T (805) 899-2222
May 16-Cal Poly Arts presents Audra McDonald, 1 Grand Ave, San Luis Obispo, CA 93407 T (805) 756-4849
May 20-Audra McDonald with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, LA Opera Off Grand, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012 (213) 972-8001
May 24-Audra McDonald with the San Diego Symphony Orchestra, Copley Symphony Hall, 750 B. Street, San Diego, CA 92101