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If you like Audra McDonald's story, you might also like:
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Audra McDonald
Audra McDonald
Profile of Audra McDonald Biography of Audra McDonald Interview with Audra McDonald Audra McDonald Photo Gallery

Audra McDonald Biography

Six Tony Awards

Audra McDonald Date of birth: July 3, 1970

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  Audra McDonald

Audra McDonald was born in Berlin, Germany, where her father, Stanley McDonald, Jr., was stationed with the U.S. Army. Following his military service, the family settled in Fresno, California. Both of Audra McDonald's parents were educators. Her father, after serving as a high school teacher and principal, became assistant superintendent of human resources for the Fresno Unified School District. Her mother, Anna McDonald, later became an administrator at California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo. Both parents played piano and came from highly musical families.

The older of two daughters, Audra was a rambunctious, hyperactive child. Rather than medicate her, her parents sought an outlet for her prodigious energy. When a local theater group, the Good Company Players, announced the formation of a children's musical theater group, her parents took her to audition, with her father acting as accompanist. The theater became the center of young Audra's life. The company's director, Dan Pessano, taught her the basics of stagecraft and theater etiquette. She became a favorite with local audiences, playing roles such as Dorothy in The Wiz.

Audra McDonald Biography Photo
On graduating from the performing arts magnet program at Theodore Roosevelt High School, she auditioned for the Juilliard School of Music in New York City. The school has a highly regarded actor training program, but young Audra, who had had little formal voice training, was accepted into the classical voice program. Although her heart was already set on the Broadway theater, she spent the next years singing classical music rather than acting. She eventually chafed at the discipline and took a year off, landing a spot in the chorus of the Broadway musical The Secret Garden. She stayed with the show on its national tour before returning to Juilliard to graduate in 1993.

The following year she landed her breakthrough role, New England mill worker Carrie Pipperidge in a revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic Carousel. Even critics who were skeptical about the colorblind casting of the show were enthusiastic about McDonald's soaring voice and sly comedic skills. In this, her first featured role on the New York Stage, she won Drama Desk and Critics Circle awards, and a Tony Award for Best Perfromance by a Featured Actress in a Musical.

Audra McDonald Biography Photo
In 1995, McDonald won a role in the play Master Class by Terence McNally. McDonald was cast as a young voice student who survives a grueling lesson with the legendary opera singer Maria Callas, portrayed by the British actress Zöe Caldwell. Although Master Class was a straight dramatic play, rather than a musical, the action required McDonald's character to sing a notoriously difficult aria from Verdi's Macbeth -- a far cry from the comic numbers she sang in Carousel. Her performance drew universal praise, not only from the drama critics, but from opera lovers drawn to the play's subject matter. McDonald won a second Tony Award for her performance, this time for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play.

She followed this with her feature film debut in the film Seven Servants. Meanwhile, playwright McNally was at work on a script that would give McDonald her first chance to originate a role in a Broadway musical. In McNally's musical adaptation of E.L. Doctorow's novel Ragtime, McDonald played the tragic role of Sarah, a doomed working woman in turn-of-the-20th century New York. The show opened in Toronto, where it ran for a year before transferring to Broadway. Prior to the Broadway opening, the original cast album featuring McDonald was released. The show flourished on Broadway, and once again, McDonald was honored with a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical.

Audra McDonald Biography Photo
In 1998, McDonald released her debut recording as a solo artist, Way Back to Paradise, a collection of songs by contemporary composers. The same year, she made her Carnegie Hall debut, a season-opening concert with the San Francisco Symphony, broadcast live on PBS. The following year she starred in an original Broadway musical, Marie Christine, retelling the classical tragedy of Medea against a setting of 19th century New Orleans and Chicago. The show closed in the second month of its run, but McDonald's performance was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, her first nomination for a starring performance.

In 1998 and 1999, McDonald appeared in the films The Object of My Affection and The Cradle Will Rock. The year 1999 also marked the beginning of a distinguished television career for McDonald with a leading role in Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years. She followed this with appearances in the television remake of the musical Annie, the HBO film of the play Wit, a recurring role in Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, and a regular role in the series Mister Sterling. McDonald made more feature films as well, including It Runs in the Family and The Best Thief in the World. In the year 2000, Audra McDonald married musician Peter Donovan. The couple would have one child.

Audra McDonald Biography Photo
Audra McDonald returned to Broadway in the 2004 revival of the classic American drama A Raisin the Sun, starring opposite Sean "Diddy" Combs in his Broadway debut. McDonald received a fourth Tony Award for her performance. She assumed her first major Shakespearean role in a New York production of Henry IV in 2004. She made an even more daring leap in 2006, leaving the world of Broadway musicals and drama altogether to make her opera debut at the Houston Grand Opera. In a single evening, she performed Francis Poulenc's one-woman opera La voix humaine and the world premiere of another one-act opera, Send by Marie Christine composer Michael John LaChiusa. In the same season, she was seen by television audeinces in The Bedford Diaries and Kidnapped.

The following year, McDonald appeared at the Los Angeles Opera in Mahagonny by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. The recording of this production received Grammy Awards for Best Opera Recording and for Best Classical Album. Later in 2007, McDonald starred in the Broadway revival of 110 in the Shade, a lesser-known work of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, the team behind the long-running off-Broadway show The Fantasticks. During the run of 110 in the Shade, McDonald received word that her father, an experienced pilot, had died in a flying accident. Following her Broadway run in 110 in the Shade, McDonald moved to Los Angeles to work in movies and television. For the next three seasons, she appeared as Dr. Naomi Bennett in the prime-time network series Private Practice. In 2008, she reprised her Tony Award-winning dramatic role in a television film of A Raisin in the Sun. Her marriage to Peter Donovan ended in 2009. She continued to appear in feature films as well, including the 2012 police drama Rampart, with Woody Harrelson.

Audra McDonald Biography Photo
In 2012, McDonald returned to the Broadway stage for one of the greatest challenges of her career, Bess, in George and Ira Gershwin's American opera Porgy and Bess. First produced in 1935, Porgy and Bess has been subject to previous reinterpretations and revisions. The 2012 revival, billed as The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, with a script revised by playwright Suzan Lori-Parks, went further than ever before in reconciling George Gershwin's operatic ambitions to the limits and freedoms of the Broadway stage. In McDonald's hands, the role of Bess, often stereotyped as a heartless "loose woman," emerged as a distinctly injured and uniquely human character. The production was a sensation and earned Audra McDonald a fifth Tony Award, this time for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical.

Between starring roles in the theater and on television, Audra McDonald appears in concert with America's greatest orchestras, and hosts television programs such as the PBS series Live From Lincoln Center. Her best-selling record albums include How Glory Goes and Build a Bridge. In October 2012, she married actor Will Swenson. Their blended family includes their three children from previous marriages. In 2014, Audra McDonald took the role of jazz singer Billie Holliday in a Broadway revival of the play Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill. Once again she received rave reviews and won the year's Tony Award for Best Actress in a dramatic role. This unprecedented sixth Tony Award makes her the most honored actress in the history of the award.

This page last revised on Jun 09, 2014 09:34 EDT
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