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Stars and the City: Audra McDonald

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |


Audra McDonald on her Broadway beginnings, ‘The Good Fight’ and NYC

There are Broadway stars, and then there is Audra McDonald, who has won a record-breaking six Tony Awards. She also has two Grammys, an Emmy and a National Medal of Arts award from President Obama. McDonald currently plays U.S. attorney Liz Reddick-Lawrence on The Good Fight, the CBS All Access Original Series. She recently performed with her good pal SiriusXM radio star Seth Rudetsky as they kicked off the Broadway @ The Town Hall concert series. (The concert series continues with Kelli O'Hara on Jan. 14 and Jeremy Jordan on Mar. 11.) 

Audra McDonald currently stars in ‘The Good Fight’ (Photo: Allison Michael Orenstein)

Audra McDonald currently stars in ‘The Good Fight’ (Photo: Allison Michael Orenstein)

Was there a moment when you knew you had to perform? 
Audra McDonald:
I remember the first time I sang a solo in my church choir. I was around 7 or 8. The little kids stood up and faced the congregation and sang a little religious song called “Violet in the Snow.” I had the lead solo. I remember how excited I was to do it and the sensation of hearing my voice resonate in the church and feeling all the electricity. I was a very hyperactive child. I found that when I was performing, singing or dancing, I felt normal. So it felt very safe and like home to me.

How did you make your Broadway debut? 
McDonald
: I auditioned to replace a tiny role in The Secret Garden called Ayah. I got cast, but the girl playing Ayah who was going to do the tour just had a baby. They said “She doesn’t want to go out on the road. Would you be willing to play the part on the road so that she can stay home and go into the Broadway Company?” 

I said “Sure. I’ll do whatever.” Then after being on the road for a while with the show, the girl who had done it on Broadway was ready to go out on the road. So they said “All right, you are ready to make your Broadway debut.” I got to be with the Broadway Company for the last couple months of the run. At the time we had Rebecca Luker, Howard McGillin and Alison Fraser. It was very exciting. I had loved all of them. And to get a chance to be on Broadway, to be backstage on a Broadway theater and finally get my first Broadway credit, was everything. 

What do you love about living in New York City? 
McDonald
: The people. I love that everywhere you look there are so many different races. creeds and colors. New York is the great equalizer. If you know how to cross a street, you can make it in New York. For me, especially raising children, I think it’s wonderful. You see the whole world. It’s a microcosm of the world. It’s a great way to learn how to be tolerant of other races and religions. It’s a wonderful place to raise kids.

Is there a specific place in New York that you love? 
McDonald
: Times Square, because that’s where Broadway is. I first experienced Times Square in 1987. I was here with my show choir and we were performing around. We all got to go see some Broadway shows. I got the see Starlight Express. We walked around in Times Square and I thought, “This is where I want to be. This is what I want to do.”

What do you love about playing Liz on The Good Fight
McDonald
: I really enjoy working with this incredible cast and with Michelle and Robert King. Also, I have known and loved Christine Baranski for years, but never had an opportunity to work with her.  One of the reasons I said “yes” was to finally get a chance for the two of us to work together. Also, what I love about Liz is that she’s a little bit tougher than other characters I played on television. You’re not always sure which side she is on. There is a little bit of a manipulative quality to her, and I’m enjoying that. There are many shades of gray. At times you think, “She’s a good one.” Then you say, “Wait a minute.” I’m enjoying the unpredictability of her character.

How has playing an attorney like Liz impacted your life? 
McDonald
: I had to do something with some lawyers recently and I said “I want you all to know that I’m doing a character study right now; I’m studying all of you.” 

Looking back, is there something you wish you could have told yourself when you were starting your career? 
McDonald
: I think I would have told myself: “Trust.” It sounds very cliché, but just believe in your talent. Your talent is enough. I think I trusted and believed in it when I was in Fresno, California. And then I got to New York, and got a little confused trying to sound like other people. I did not trust my own talent and abilities, and I got in my way. And once I realized I need to stop trying to sound like everybody else and just sound like me, that’s when things started to fall into place. 

I realize you have a very full plate, but do see yourself coming back to Broadway?
McDonald
: I will always try and go back to Broadway. I love theater, so any opportunity that I get that works, schedule-wise, I will take. I will find myself back there at some point I hope. As long as Broadway will have me.

With all the eclectic roles you play, is there a specific role you are aching to tackle?
McDonald
: Not necessarily. For me, the point is to stretch me as an artist. I don’t like being put in a box, or pigeonholed. I think, “What is going to stretch and challenge me?” I didn’t think I could ever do Lady Day in a million years. (McDonald won her sixth Tony award for her mesmerizing performance playing Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill.) So that is why I went for it. I thought, “I’m going to try and if I fall, I’m going to fall big. But I’m going to try.” I knew that it would stretch me artistically. That is what I’m always looking for. What is the next thing that I haven’t done that will be a challenge that I can either face and defeat, or face and fail? But I’ll face it.

What do you love to do when you are not working? 
McDonald
: I love where we live, and I’m a homebody. That probably sounds strange, but I think it is because of what I do for a living. I’m on the road a lot, and spend many hours away from home. But when we do have time, it’s more about being at home with each other. We’re sitting in our yard. That is what thrills us.

For more of the best of Broadway, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in January 2018

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