Audra McDonald is an artist that transcends all genres. From the stage to television to the movie screen, there isn’t much she hasn’t already done. And with an Emmy Award, two Grammy Awards and a record-setting six Tony Awards, it’s safe to say she’s already established herself as an icon.
Though McDonald is a veteran to the Broadway stage, she’s no stranger to opera — she earned her undergraduate degree in classical voice from The Juilliard School in 1993 before switching gears to musical theater. In 2007, she made her LA Opera debut as Jenny in Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, which would subsequently go on to win a Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording. On May 20, she once again revisits her operatic roots on the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for an afternoon of favorite show tunes, classic songs and original pieces written especially for her alongside the LA Opera Orchestra.
While most artists struggle for years to find their footing, McDonald seems to have been tailor-made for the spotlight. Born in West Germany to American parents, she was raised in the California town of Fresno before moving to New York City for college. She made her principal Broadway debut almost immediately after graduating from Juilliard as Carrie Pipperidge in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, for which she won her first Tony Award (Best Featured Actress in a Musical). Though most artists in their mid-20s struggle to find their footing, McDonald was a wunderkind of some kind — she’d go on to win another two Tony Awards in the next four years, with a total of three by the time she was 28 years old.
But her fandom isn’t limited to stages in the United States. She has appeared on stages in New York, London, Berlin and many more. But the list doesn’t end there — she’s also shown up on screens across the globe, most notably as Liz Lawrence in CBS’s The Good Fight, Naomi Bennett in ABC’s Private Practice and Ruth Younger in A Raisin in the Sun, the latter which garnered her a Primetime Emmy nomination. She’s even made it to the movie screen, most recently in Beauty and the Beast (2017) as Madame de Garderobe (The Wardrobe). She has been praised by The New York Times as “emboss[ing] any production in which she appears with a good-value guarantee.” Indeed, McDonald seems at home in whatever project she chooses to tackle.
It is unusual for one star to have such a presence both on-screen and on-stage, especially when that one also splits their time between classical and contemporary styles of singing. So how does an artist such as McDonald maintain such relevance in so many different genres of the arts. From musicals such as Ragtime and Carousel to plays like Master Class and Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, McDonald has proven that the arts aren’t exclusive — the fact that any artist needs to be pigeonholed into a single genre is a disservice. An artist’s’ purpose is to communicate to the audience. And communicate she does.
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