Audra McDonaldAudra Ann McDonald (born July 3, 1970) is an American actress and singer. Primarily known for her work on the Broadway stage, she has won six Tony Awards, more performance wins than any other actor, and is the only person to win all four acting categories. She has performed in musicals, operas, and dramas such as A Moon for the Misbegotten, 110 in the Shade, Carousel, Ragtime, Master Class and Porgy and Bess.
As a classical soprano, she has performed in staged operas with the Houston Grand Opera and the Los Angeles Opera and in concerts with symphony orchestras like the Berlin Philharmonic and New York Philharmonic. In 2008 her recording of Kurt Weill's Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny with the Los Angeles Opera won the Grammy Award for Best Classical Album and the Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording. She has a close working relationship with composer Michael John LaChiusa who has written several works for her, including the Broadway musical Marie Christine, the opera Send (who are you? i love you), and The Seven Deadly Sins: A Song Cycle. With her full lyric soprano voice, she maintains an active concert and recording career throughout the United States performing a wide repertoire from classical to musical theater to jazz and popular songs. In 2016, McDonald was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama. In 2017 she was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.
On television, McDonald portrayed Dr. Naomi Bennett as a main cast member of Shonda Rhimes's ABC television drama Private Practice from 2007–2011. She also portrayed the character of Liz Lawrence in Season 4 of The Good Wife, a role that she reprises as a main cast member in the spinoff series The Good Fight. In 2013 she performed the role of Mother Superior in The Sound of Music Live! opposite Carrie Underwood as Maria. She has twice been nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for her portrayals of Susie Monahan in Wit opposite Emma Thompson in 2001 and for her performance of Ruth Younger in A Raisin in the Sun in 2008. In 2016 she was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie and a Screen Actors Guild Award for her performance in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill for HBO in which McDonald portrayed jazz legend Billie Holiday. She won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Class Program in 2015 for her work hosting the program Live from Lincoln Center.
On film she is best known for her portrayals of Maureen in Ricki and the Flash (2015) opposite Meryl Streep and Madame de Garderobe in the 2017 film version of Disney's Beauty and the Beast. She has been nominated five times for the NAACP Image Awards for her work in television and film.
Early life and educationMcDonald was born in West Berlin, Germany, the daughter of American parents, Anna Kathryn, a university administrator, and Stanley McDonald Jr., a high school principal. At the time of her birth, her father was stationed with the United States Army. McDonald was raised in Fresno, California, the elder of two daughters; her young sister, Alison, writes and directs for television and film. McDonald graduated from the Roosevelt School of the Arts program within Theodore Roosevelt High School in Fresno. She got her start in acting with Dan Pessano and Good Company Players, beginning in their junior company. In a feature article about her written when she was a child, she said that she knew she wanted to be involved in theater "when I had my first chance to perform with the Good Company Players Junior Company." She also said that the people who have had the most impact on her life are "Good Company director Dan Pessano and my mother." She studied classical voice as an undergraduate under Ellen Faull at the Juilliard School, graduating in 1993.
McDonald was a three-time Tony Award winner by age 28 for her performances in Carousel, Master Class, and Ragtime, placing her alongside Shirley Booth, Gwen Verdon and Zero Mostel by accomplishing this feat within five years. She was nominated for another Tony Award 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 then four-time winning actress Angela Lansbury. She reprised her Raisin role for a 2008 television adaptation, earning her a second Emmy Award nomination. On June 10, 2012, McDonald scored her fifth Tony Award win for her portrayal of Bess in Broadway's The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, thus tying Angela Lansbury and Julie Harris. Her 2014 performance as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill earned McDonald her sixth Tony award and made her the first person to win all four acting categories.
McDonald appeared as Lizzie in the Roundabout Theatre Company's 2007 revival of 110 in the Shade, directed by Lonny Price at Studio 54, for which she shared the Drama Desk Award for Best Actress in a Musical with Donna Murphy. On April 29, 2007, while she was in previews for the show, her father was killed when an experimental aircraft he was flying crashed north of Sacramento, California.
McDonald is known for defying racial typecasting in her various Tony Award-winning and -nominated roles. Her performances as Carrie Pipperidge in Nicholas Hytner's 1996 revival of Carousel and Lizzie Curry in Lonny Price's 2007 revival of 110 in the Shade made her the first black woman to portray those (traditionally white) roles in a major Broadway production. Of her groundbreaking work in encouraging diversity in musical theatre casting, she said in an interview for The New York Times, "I refuse to be stereotyped. If I think I am right for a role I will go for it in whatever way I can. I refuse to say no to myself. I can't control what a producer will do or say but I can at least put myself out there." In a Talk of the Nation interview on NPR, Asian-American actor Thom Sesma said McDonald's performance in Carousel "transcended any kind of type at all", proving her to be "more actress than African-American."
McDonald is also no stranger to the opera stage. In 2006 she made her opera debut at the Houston Grand Opera performing Francis Poulenc's La Voix humaine and the world premiere of Michael John LaChiusa's one-woman opera Send (who are you? I love you). She had previously performed in the world premiere of John Adams' I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky which was given in concert, and can be heard on the 1997 recording of the opera. In 2007 she performed the role of Jenny Smith in Kurt Weill's Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny at the Los Angeles Opera. Her performance was recorded and won the Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording in 2009. She appeared in a revised version of George Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess, at the American Repertory Theatre (in Cambridge, Massachusetts) from August through September 2011, and recreated the role on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, which opened on January 12, 2012 and closed on September 23, 2012. For this role, McDonald won her fifth Tony Award and her first in a Leading Actress category. This American Repertory Theater production was "re-imagined by Suzan-Lori Parks and Diedre Murray as a musical for contemporary audiences."
In 2014, she was featured in Lynn Nottage's short play Poof!, alongside Tonya Pinkins. It was produced for radio and podcast by Playing On Air.
She appeared at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, Massachusetts, in Eugene O'Neill's play A Moon for the Misbegotten in August 2015, co-starring with her husband Will Swenson.
In 2016, McDonald starred on Broadway as the vaudeville performer Lottie Gee in a new musical titled Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed about the making of the 1921 musical Shuffle Along. Shuffle Along closed on July 24, 2016 and McDonald began a maternity hiatus at that time.
Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and GrillMcDonald played Billie Holiday on Broadway in the play Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill in a limited engagement that ended on August 10, 2014. After previews that began on March 25, 2014, the play opened at the Circle in the Square Theatre on April 13, 2014. Of the play, McDonald said in an interview:
It's about a woman trying to get through a concert performance, which I know something about, and she's doing it at a time when her liver was pickled and she was still doing heroin regularly...I might have been a little judgmental about Billie Holiday early on in my life, but what I've come to admire most about her – and what is fascinating in this show – is that there is never any self-pity. She's almost laughing at how horrible her life has been. I don't think she sees herself as a victim. And she feels an incredible connection to her music – she can't sing a song if she doesn't have some emotional connection to it, which I really understand.
McDonald won the Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play for this role, making her the first person to earn six Tony Award wins for acting (not counting honorary awards) and the first person to win a Tony Award in all four acting categories. In her acceptance speech, "she thanked her parents for encouraging her to pursue her interests as a child." She also thanked the "strong and brave and courageous" African-American women who came before her, saying in part, "I am standing on Lena Horne's shoulders. I am standing on Maya Angelou's shoulders. I am 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." This performance was filmed at Cafe Brasil in New Orleans and broadcast on HBO on March 12, 2016. McDonald received a 2016 Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for her role in the broadcast.
McDonald had planned to make her West End debut as Holiday in Lady Day in June through September 2016, but after becoming pregnant she postponed these plans. She performed in Lady Day in June 2017 through September 9, 2017, at the Wyndham's Theatre in the West End.
Recordings and concerts
McDonald has maintained ties to her classical training and repertoire. She frequently performs in concert throughout the U.S. and has performed with musical organizations such as the New York Philharmonic and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Carnegie Hall commissioned the song cycle The Seven Deadly Sins: A Song Cycle for McDonald, and she performed it at Carnegie's Zankel Hall on June 2, 2004. She sang two solo one-act operas at the Houston Grand Opera in March 2006: Francis Poulenc's La voix humaine and the world premiere of Michael John LaChiusa's Send (who are you? I love you). On February 10, 2007, McDonald starred with Patti LuPone in the Los Angeles Opera production of Kurt Weill's opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny directed by John Doyle. The recording of this production of Mahagonny won two Grammy Awards, for Best Opera Recording and Best Classical Album in February 2009.
In September 2008, American composer Michael John LaChiusa was quoted in Opera News Online, as working on an adaptation of Bizet's Carmen with McDonald in mind.
McDonald has recorded five solo albums for Nonesuch Records. Her first, the 1998 Way Back to Paradise, featured songs written by a new generation of musical theatre composers who had achieved varying degrees of prominence in the 1990s, particularly LaChiusa, Adam Guettel and Jason Robert Brown.
Her next album, How Glory Goes (2000), combined both old and new works, and included composers Harold Arlen, Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Kern. Her third album, Happy Songs (2002), was big band music from the 1920s through the 1940s. Her fourth album, Build a Bridge (2006), features songs from jazz and pop.
In May 2013, Audra McDonald released her first solo album in seven years, Go Back Home, with a title track from the Kander & Ebb musical The Scottsboro Boys. To coincide with the album's release, McDonald performed a concert at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City that aired on the PBS series Live from Lincoln Center titled Audra McDonald In Concert: Go Back Home.
At the 2010 BCS National Championship Game on January 7, McDonald sang America the Beautiful for the sold-out stadium fans to celebrate the final game of the college football season.
In May 2000, Audra McDonald appeared as "The Beggar Woman" in Lonny Price's concert version of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, performed at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, New York, with the New York Philharmonic with George Hearn and Patti LuPone. She reprised the role in some performances of the March 2014 Lincoln Center concert production, again directed by Price, this time opposite Bryn Terfel and Emma Thompson. She performed three concerts, titled "Audra McDonald Sings Broadway", in the Sydney Opera House in November 2015, which also included "The Facebook Song" by Kate Miller-Heidke.
Television and filmMcDonald has also 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 Movie for the HBO film Wit, starring Emma Thompson and directed by Mike Nichols. She also has appeared on Homicide: Life on the Street (1999), Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (2000), Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years (1999), the short-lived Mister Sterling (2003), The Bedford Diaries (2006), and Kidnapped (2006–2007), and in the 1999 television remake of Annie as Daddy Warbucks' secretary & soon-to-be wife, Miss Farrell. She sang with the New York Philharmonic in the annual New Year's Eve gala concert on December 31, 2006, featuring music from the movies; it was televised on Live from Lincoln Center by PBS. In 2013, she appeared in the HBO documentary Six by Sondheim.
McDonald appeared as Naomi Bennett in Private Practice, a spinoff of Grey's Anatomy. She replaced Merrin Dungey, who played the role in the series pilot. McDonald left Private Practice at the end of season four, but returned for the series finale at the end of season six to bring closure to Naomi's storyline.
In films, McDonald has appeared in Beauty and the Beast (2017), Ricki and the Flash (2015), Best Thief in the World (2004), It Runs in the Family (2003), Cradle Will Rock (1999), The Object of My Affection (1998), and Seven Servants by Daryush Shokof which was her film acting debut in 1996.
McDonald played Mother Abbess in the 2013 NBC live television production of The Sound of Music Live!.
Since 2012, McDonald has served as host for the PBS series Live From Lincoln Center, for which she shared an Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Class Program with the show's producers. On August 1, 2017, it was announced that she had been added to the main cast for the second season of The Good Fight, reprising her role as Liz Lawrence from The Good Wife season 4.
Personal lifeMcDonald married bassist Peter Donovan in September 2000. They have one daughter, Zoe Madeline Donovan, named after McDonald's close friend and Master Class co-star Zoe Caldwell. McDonald and Donovan divorced in 2009. She married Will Swenson on October 6, 2012. On October 19, 2016, they became parents to a girl, Sally James McDonald-Swenson. She also has two stepsons.
McDonald attended Joan Rivers' funeral in New York on September 7, 2014, where she sang "Smile".
McDonald lives in Croton-on-Hudson, New York.
ConcertsAudra McDonald in Concert (2013–14)
23 concerts total; the gap between May and October 2013 is due to McDonald's work with television and her album coming out, causing the three and a half month gap. The tour ended due to McDonald's show, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill opening on Broadway, but she picked up again with a new tour once the show closed.
An Evening with Audra McDonald (2014–15)
37 concerts; this tour marked her Australian debut. The lack of August shows was due to her run in A Moon for the Misbegotten.
Awards and nominationsIn 2012, Audra McDonald received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.
On September 22, 2016, Audra McDonald was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama for 2015. The Award states, in part: "for lighting up Broadway as one of its brightest stars.... In musicals, concerts, operas, and the recording studio, her rich, soulful voice continues to take her audiences to new heights."