Editor’s update: Performer Audra McDonald is ill and the concert has been rescheduled for June 13.
She started in dinner theater. Then went to Juilliard. And finally on to Broadway.
Musical theater superstar Audra McDonald is living — and working — her dream job.
McDonald, a six-time Tony Award winner, is bringing her music to Broward Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday, with later stops in West Palm Beach, Naples and Sarasota.
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We talked to McDonald, 47, about performing, her arts education, severe stage fright, and balancing motherhood (she has a teenage daughter from a previous marriage and a girl born October 2016 with husband actor Will Swenson):
Q. What can your audience expect to see at the Broward Center?
A. It’ll be me with my trio, and we’ll just be doing a trip through the great American musical theater songbook. I’ll be singing songs written as early as 1929, and songs written as recently as maybe a year or two ago, and kind of everything in between. They’re very intimate evenings. I’m very informal and I chat with the audience. Just try and keep it informal so it feels like a good connection, and it’s a chance for an audience to get to know me outside of my roles.
Q. What’s your approach in rehearsal?
A. I’ve been with my band for about 10 years, and so we’ve been touring together for years and years and years. As we add material, we rehearse. In terms of that particular concert, I’ll do a sound check the day of the concert, but I will have just done a concert with my band in Atlanta the week before. We spend a lot of time together.
Q. When did you decide theater as a career?
A. I was raised in Fresno, California, and I started with a dinner theater there when I was 9 years old and that’s basically when I decided that I wanted to be on Broadway one day. Luckily for me, there happened to be a performing arts middle school and a performing arts high school in Fresno, so I attended both of those while still doing dinner theater. And when I graduated from high school, I went to Juilliard in New York. From there, I started auditioning for Broadway shows after I graduated, and started doing Broadway shows around 1994. I’m just very, very lucky I’ve been able to just kind of trip and fall into my dream career.
Q. Backtracking from Broadway, what were your high school musicals?
A. I played Reno Sweeney in “Anything Goes.” I was in a musical called “Working” where I played a cleaning woman. I was Sarah Brown in “Guys and Dolls.”
Q. If you could play any role over again, which would it be and would you do anything differently?
A. I’d go back and do every role I’ve ever done again and do them all differently. You know, by the time you get to the end of the run of something, you start to figure out some things about the character.
Q. When you act for film, do you ever go back and watch?
A. I do, but it takes years before I will. I filmed “Lady Day” for HBO, and I have not seen that. And I didn’t really watch most of “Private Practice” while it was running. It’s hard to watch yourself, you know?
Q. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had in theater, and how did you overcome it?
A. With concerts specifically, I had really bad stage fright to the point where I would pass out. I used to pass out a lot on stage mid-performance. It’s helped my style evolve. Once I took the formality away from my concerts, I became less afraid of them.
Q. What’s the best advice you have received on pursuing a career in the arts?
A. Get onstage anywhere and everywhere. You can only read so much in a book. You gotta get out there and figure it out for yourself.
Q. Do you have any advice for students looking at a career in the arts?
A. I like to tell students, “Don’t say no to yourself. If there’s something that you think you can do, a role you think you can play, you pursue it. Even if the casting director and everybody else says no to you, don’t say no to yourself.”
Q. Do you prefer acting for film or onstage?
A. I love them all. I usually just say that theater is my first language. It’s where I got my start. I did theater years before I started doing film or television.
Q. Are there any songs you have cut from your concerts because you’re tired of singing them?
A. From time to time I’ll recycle songs out because, ugh, I’m done with that. And then years later, I’ll be like “I miss that one, let’s bring that back.” You have to keep yourself interested.
Q. How do you manage performing and being a mom?
A. I have no idea. As soon as I figure it out, I’ll let you know.
Q. Have you ever been to South Florida before and are you going to have any time to spend here after the show?
A. I’m traveling a lot, so I’m not going to have a ton of time to spend. But yes, I have been to Southern Florida before. It’s beautiful, and I’m looking forward to coming back. I’m looking at a very, very gray sky here in New York, and I’m looking forward to maybe some warmer temperatures and hopefully a sunny sky when I get there.