A classical soprano and a true Broadway diva, Audra McDonald blows the audiences away whenever she sets foot on the stage. She’s the instrument of operatic force in Broadway, and she has acting chops to back it all up. Audrey McDonald has won six Tony Awards – more wins than any other stage actor. At the age of 28, McDonald was already a three-time Tony Award winner for her performances in Carousel, Master Class, and Ragtime.
Audra McDonald is equally comfortable in both musical and non-musical roles, and her versatility is as wide-reaching as her vocal range. She’s beautiful, bold, and noble, yet she also shines in unglamorous roles.
Audra Ann McDonald (July 3, 1970) was born in West Berlin, West Germany, now known as Berlin, Germany. She is the daughter of American parents, Stanley McDonald Jr., a high school principal, and Anna Kathryn, a university administrator. She was born in Germany because her father was stationed with the US Army there at the time of her birth.
McDonald was raised in Fresno, California, by a family of musicians. Besides working at the academe, her parents were also pianists and singers. Her five aunts toured the West Coast as the singing McDonald Sisters during the 1970s. At age nine, she started performing at a local dinner theatre and took voice lessons. McDonald continued to perform in high school and assumed the lead roles in several musicals. She went to college at Juilliard School to pursue further vocal training, graduating in 1993.
Soon after graduation, McDonald was cast as a replacement in the role of Ayah in a touring production of The Secret Garden (1993). She quickly attracted attention, and the next year she was cast in Nicholas Hytner’s revival of Carousel (1994). Playing the supporting role of Carrie, she earned her first Tony Award, Drama Desk Award, and an Outer Critics Circle Award. McDonald also demonstrated her dramatic acting skills when she performed in Terrence McNally’s play Master Class (1996), for which she won another Tony Award. Her third Tony Award was awarded for her role as Sarah in the musical Ragtime (1998). She was only 28 years old when she received her third Tony.
McDonald starred as the title role in Marie Christine (1999), a musical retelling of Medea. In this play, she controlled her soprano voice exquisitely, navigating a score with an amalgam of musical styles. She also starred in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2000) as Lucy and Clara in Passion (2003). She reprised these two roles in the 2014 and 2005 revival, respectively.
McDonald tried to expand her repertoire to include Shakespeare with a performance as Lady Percy in Henry IV. Her fourth Tony Award came with her role as Ruth Younger in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun (2004). She then was cast in 110 in the Shade (2007), where she was nominated for a Tony, and in Twelfth Night (2009). In 2007, she starred with Patti LuPone in the production of Kurt Weill’s opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, for which recording won her two Grammy Awards.
In 2012, McDonald received her first Tony Award as a leading actress as she played the role of Bess in the 2012 musical theatre adaptation of Porgy and Bess. She also starred in the Broadway play Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill (2014) and won another Tony Award for her performance as Billie Holiday. At that point in her career, she became the first person to earn six Tony Awards for acting and the first to do so in all four acting categories.
Her later Broadway credits include Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed (2016), and Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune (2019).
Film and TV Career
McDonald made her film debut in the drama Seven Servants (1997). Her notable film credits include The Object of My Affection (1998), Cradle Will Rock (1999), It Runs in the Family (2003), Best Thief in the World (2004), Ricki and the Flash (2015), and Beauty and the Beast (2017).
McDonald has also appeared in many television roles, both musical and dramatic. In 2001, she was nominated for an Emmy Award for the HBO film Wit, directed by Mike Nichols. She also appeared in TV movies, including Annie (1999), Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ Frist 100 Years (1999), The Last Debate (2000), Partners in Crime (2003), and The Ordained (2013).
McDonald starred as Naomi Bennet in Private Practice (2007-2013), a spinoff of Grey’s Anatomy, as Professor Carla Bonatelle in The Bedford Diaries (2006); as Jackie Hayes in Kidnapped (2006); and as Jackie Brock in Mister Sterling (2003).
She also appeared in episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street (1999), Grey’s Anatomy (2009), Great Performances (2007), The Good Wife (2013), Submissions Only (2014), RuPaul’s Drag Race (2018), BoJack Horseman (2018), and American Experience (2020).
Audra McDonald is a talented singer and actress who won numerous prestigious accolades for her work in theatre and Broadway. In 2012, she was awarded a Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement. In 2016, President Barack Obama awarded her with the National Medal of Arts for 2015.
Here are her awards for her stage work:
- Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical, Tony Award (1994) – Carousel
- Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical, Drama Desk Award (1994) – Carousel
- Outstanding Actress in a Musical, Outer Critics Circle Award (1994) – Carousel
- Theatre World Award (1994)
- Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play, Tony Award (1996) – Master Class
- Best Featured Actress in a Play, Ovation Award (1996) – Master Class
- Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical, Tony Award (1998) – Ragtime
- Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play, Tony Award (2004) – A Raisin in the Sun
- Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play, Drama League Award (2004) – A Raisin in the Sun
- Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play, Outer Critics Circle Award (2004) – A Raisin in the Sun
- Favorite Featured Actress in a Play, Broadway.com Audience Award (2004) – A Raisin in the Sun
- Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, Tony Award (2007) – 110 in the Shade
- Outstanding Actress in a Musical, Outer Critics Circle Award (2007) – 110 in the Shade
- Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, Tony Award (2012) – Porgy and Bess
- Outstanding Actress in a Musical, Drama Desk Award (2012) – Porgy and Bess
- Distinguished Performance, Drama League Award (2012) – Porgy and Bess
- Outstanding Actress in a Musical, Outer Critics Circle Award (2012) – Porgy and Bess
- Distinguished Achievement in the Theatre, Sarah Siddons Society Award (2013)
- Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play, Tony Award (2014) – Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill
- Outstanding Actress in a Play, Drama Desk Award (2014) – Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill
- Outstanding Actress in a Musical, Outer Critics Circle Award (2014) –Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill
- Favorite Actress in a Play, Broadway.com Audience Award (2014) – Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill
- Best Actor in a Play on Broadway, The Antonyo Awards (2020) –Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune