Sunday, April 14, 2024

Take 5: Audra McDonald

In 2012, Audra McDonald achieved a milestone, becoming one of three actors in Broadway history to win five Tony Awards (she joined the ranks of Julie Harris and Angela Lansbury). She won for “Porgy and Bess,” a revival of the Gershwins’ celebrated “American folk opera,” and her previous wins, which range from “Master Class” to “A Raisin in the Sun,” attest to her diversity.

Born in Berlin in 1970 to a military family, McDonald was raised in California and voice-trained at Juilliard; she won her first Tony for her first Broadway starring role, in 1994’s “Carousel.” She’s also hosted solo concerts and sung with philharmonics, collaborating on everything from big-band standards to jazz and pop. Her television credits include five years as an obstetrician on ABC’s “Private Practice”—still her most recognizable part.

At her headlining appearance to close Festival of the Arts Boca, McDonald will lend to her golden voice to a celebration of musical theater favorites from Broadway classics to material from shows as recent as 2011.

How do you keep a role fresh and exciting after performing it hundreds of times?

I have a friend who used to say, “You look for a new vein every night.” You have to be able to get up there and find the truth in the song and the situation night after night, so it changes. It can vary. Certain things you’ve connected with will start to run a bit stale, so you have to freshen them up in a way. This is nothing the audience sees; this is the inner work that you have to do.

What do you do on those nights when you’re dealing with something personal and you just don’t want to go onstage?

It’s your job, so you have to; there’s always that. The discipline gets you out there. The fact that you’ve got an audience waiting for you gets you out there. Sometimes if you had a really bad day, you can use what’s happened to you that day and put it all into your work. Some days the last thing you want to do is go onstage, and all of a sudden you’re reinvigorated in a way you haven’t been in a week.

Do you read what the critics say about you?

You have to stay away from that. It’s so detrimental. If you believe the good, you believe the bad. It has nothing to do with what you’re doing, in a way, because they weren’t there for your whole process. Even if they single out something really great that you’re doing, you end up focusing just on that.

Do you approach operas, with their grandly dramatic themes and movements, any differently than you would a guest spot on a TV show?

No, because in the end, even if it’s just a concert, where there’s no theatrical presentation, for me it’s still about why am I doing what I’m doing? I need to know the “why” for everything. So it means finding the truth of every situation—why am I singing this song? What’s happening in this song? What needs to be expressed? That’s how you have to approach a character; it’s all the same.

Because of your experience in live theater, do you bring that same level of perfection, where every line has to be right every time, to film and TV shoots?

Not at all. As someone who’s come from the theater, I was frightened to death of the camera and having it so in my face, and with no audience to buoy you up into that performance state. Suddenly, you have to find truth and specificity and all of that underneath a microscope. I think there’s a bit of a misconception that one medium is necessarily easier than the other.

McDonald in Concert

Date: Saturday, March 16

Time: 7:30 p.m.


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