The multitalented Audra McDonald has already become legendary in the Broadway world in a short time. By the time she was 28 years old she had won three Tony Awards for Carousel, Master Class and Ragtime, placing her among the very few to accomplish that feat. She won her fourth one for A Raisin in the Sun and her fifth with The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess tying her with Julie Harris and Angela Lansbury.
McDonald's television roles have included being a regular cast member of Private Practice as well as Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
She was nominated for an Emmy for the HBO film Wit with Emma Thompson and will star in The Sound of Music Live! for NBC as Mother Abbess.
She has recorded many albums with the most recent being Go Back Home and she brings a concert tour to Chicago where Windy City Times spoke with her about it.
Windy City Times talked with McDonald shortly before her Oct. 12 concert in Chicago.
Windy City Times: Hi, Audra. You are coming back to town again.
Audra McDonald: I am, and very soon [laughs]!
WCT: You were here not too long ago to perform at The Arts Club of Chicago.
Audra McDonald: III was there for the Sarah Siddons Society. I believe that was the last time.
WCT: This is a full-on concert experience. How do you choose the set list for this?
Audra McDonald: IIIt will basically be a mixture of songs from the American musical theater songbook from about 1929 all the way up to 2011. A lot of it is based on my most recent album, Go Back Home. I have a lot of stuff from that and a few favorites that I have never jettisoned from the set list.
WCT: How do you protect the voice that has been dubbed one of the best of our time?
Audra McDonald: III am not a very social person and stay really quiet when I am traveling. I look like a drug addict on a plane because I have my Neosporin ointment, my Mucinex; I've got my EmergenC I am pouring in, and the nasal drops. I am sure I am some sort of pharmaceutical nightmare in terms of keeping myself healthy.
When I get to the venue, I don't go out. I wish I could say that I see all of these wonderful cities but I really don't. I see the inside of my hotel room, then from there I go to the theater. I do my sound check and then I am super-quiet until I go out onstage.
A lot of people who know me who have been with me from soundcheck to the concert stage think I am mad at them. I tell them, "I am not mad but I have gone inside my head until concert time."
I am pretty much a little monk!
WCT: So when I meet you after the show then I will just wave at you.
Audra McDonald: IINo, after the show I am great. I can be as chatty as anybody but prior to a show, no.
WCT: Can you talk about your journey to Porgy and Bess? How was the whole experience?
Audra McDonald: IIIt was a role I wanted to do my entire life. It was a show I had been listening to since I was about 10 years old. I became really obsessed with it when I was at Juilliard. I studied, memorized it, and knew every single note. Then at some point I knew I wanted to do it but I was never sure that it would happen. I never thought I would do it in an opera house but I knew I wanted to play that part at some point. Then I got a phone call from Diane Paulus asking me about it. It all fell into place.
It was all incredibly rewarding but challenging. It is the most difficult role I have ever had but I wouldn't trade that time for anything. It is a bucket list role for me.
WCT: What is your opinion when musicals are revamped such as when West Side Story has Spanish added to it for an updated version?
Audra McDonald: IIA lot of times these composers themselves do the changing. Stephen Sondheim is still around. Arthur Laurents was alive when he put all of the Spanish back into West Side Story. To me, that shows me there is room for that. Ours was done with people that wanted to evolve and improve.
I remember doing a production of Sweeney Todd with Sondheim back in 2000 and Sondheim was still tweaking so you never know.
WCT: I noticed Joan Rivers came back after a Porgy show. You must have met lots of celebrities during the run.
Audra McDonald: III have been lucky enough that they are some wonderful people but I never want to know that they are there beforehand. I don't like to know that. It freaks me out. Barbra Streisand came to see Porgy and Bess and that just made my head spin!
WCT: Good thing you didn't know about that. That would have been some pressure.
Audra McDonald: IIOh, yeah...
WCT: After winning five Tony Awards, is it a goal to win one more and take the record home?
Audra McDonald: IIOh, no. It is never my goal to win a Tony Award. If you set out for that as your goal then that is the last thing that will happen. I just want to do well and keep doing great work. That is the most important for me. If it happens then it would be amazing and mind blowing but my goal is to portray a role well. I just want to improve as an actress and a singer.
WCT: Sound of Music is coming. How is that process going?
Audra McDonald: IIWe start rehearsals on Monday. I am very excited and it is a neat, fun cast. The idea of bringing great live musicals back to TV is a very exciting thing. Kudos to producers Craig Zadan and Neal Meron for bringing the idea to NBC. I can't wait to jump in!
WCT: Is there a lot of pressure since it is a live experience?
Audra McDonald: IIYes, but it is certainly pressure that I am used to. That is what we do. It is always a live experience. That there are cameras rolling shouldn't be any different. There are more people seeing it than I am used to doesn't change the fact that I have to bring it.
WCT: Do you have more television projects other than Sound of Music?
Audra McDonald: IINo, I have done my TV duties with the Live from Lincoln Center special. I have a Broadway project on the horizon. I am sticking close to home right now.
WCT: Do you like people to follow you on Twitter to keep up with your work?
Audra McDonald: IIYes, I have been on it for a couple of years since Private Practice.
WCT: I see you are a big supporters of gay rights on there so I hope to bring people out to the show.
Audra McDonald: IIAww, thank you!
Audra arrives Saturday, Oct. 12, at 8 p.m. to the Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave. Tickets can be purchased at cso.org or by calling 312-294-3000.