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A Closer Look: Audra McDonald

28 June 2017 by Emily Moulder
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Having won basically all of the Tony Awards and finally making her West End debut, we thought it was time to have a closer look at Audra McDonald’s incredible work and career. If you’ve ever wanted to see a true Broadway diva on stage in London, you can with our exclusive ticket Lottery to see Audra in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.

Audra got her start in the Good Company Players, citing the director Dan Pessano as one of the figures who changed her life, someone she would later go on to thank for her success. After early experiences on stage, Audra and her operatic soprano were accepted to Juilliard, the iconic school of dance, drama and music, and graduated in 1993. Time would prove that she was right to do so – by the time she was just 28, Audra had won three Tony Awards! Her astonishing work in Carousel, Master Class, and Ragtime earned her the statues, making her one of four actresses ever to win so many in a five year period. Here’s Audra accepting her first ever Tony.

Riding the success of her early Tony wins, Audra moved into TV, appearing in the HBO drama Wit with Emma Thompson, based on the play of the same name by Margaret Edson. For her heartfelt portrayal of a nurse aiding a professor through her struggle with cancer, Audra was nominated for her first Emmy award.

While awards aren’t everything, Audra is a record-holder as the performer who has won the most Tony awards. In total, she has won six Tonys, two Grammys, her golden Emmy statue and plenty more besides. Despite her wins, she’s hasn’t let it affect the way she lives her life, telling Vulture, “When I am in the pharmacy, I don’t say ‘I am picking up my prescription for six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald.”

She also hasn’t forgotten the people who have supported her on her journey, namely the LGBTQ community. It’s no secret that a large portion of the theatre industry is made up of queer artists, but Audra has made efforts to shout from the rooftops that she is a supporter of the community, in and out of the theatre world, telling Gay Times:

“Some of the closet people in my life, that have carried me through the roughest times in my life, have been members of the LGBT+ community, starting from one of my closest friends that I met when I was 11-years-old. In a way that they’ve always been there for me, carried me and onward, how could I not turn around and do the same for them in any way I can? Especially when I see the community being disenfranchised and their rights or their voices not being heard.

For me, it’s about being there for a family I’ve always been part of, and even thought I’m not LGBTQ, I feel like I’ve always been apart of the family and that community. You come after them, you’re coming after me! I’ve always felt that way about it.”

Photo Credit: Adam Bouska. Audra and her husband, performer Will Swenson.

As a woman of colour, Audra has often defied ideas of traditional casting when it comes to race, knowing that if you want something, you have to fight for it and sometimes you can change people’s minds. In an interview with the New York Times, Audra commented, “I refuse to be stereotyped. If I think I am right for a role I will go for it in whatever way I can. I refuse to say no to myself. I can’t control what a producer will do or say but I can at least put myself out there.”

In more non-traditional casting, you may have seen Audra most recently in the latest adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, alongside Emma Watson, as Madame Garderobe (the wardrobe). Given that her character is a wardrobe, she of course had a fabulous costume and wig to wear for the movie, but it was a lot more difficult than anything she’d had to wear on stage. Audra told Elle magazine, “It [her wig] weighed so much and my dress was so large that I could not fit through doorways. I had to move sideways and completely squat to get through. And I couldn’t sit down between takes. So the lovely set carpenters built a lean-to for me with a bicycle seat on it. So I could sort of perch on the bicycle seat and lean up against this large slab of wood on incline between takes.”

Photo Credit: Beauty and the Beast

If you’re a fan of James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke, you will have seen Audra appear alongside Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Jane Krakowski for a Broadway special. The group sing “Seasons of Love” from Rent, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” from Jersey Boys and “One Day More” from Les Misérables and we love every second of it.

Now, Audra makes her West End debut as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill. The show is based on Holiday’s Philadelphia performance in 1959, just a few months prior to her death and sees her perform her iconic songs and tell personal stories from her life.

Having been previously on Broadway, as was expected, the show earned Audra her sixth Tony award – damn, it must be hard to be in a category with Audra. 20 years after her first ever win, she was a record-winning, trophy snatching superstar! Her moving acceptance speech thanked the incredible women who inspired her work, check it out.

Audra’s career has proved that when you want something, if you work hard, be nice and defy expectations, you could bring your dream to life. You can see Audra in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill for £20 with exclusive Lottery tickets.

Want more? Pride Shows: 8 Iconic LGBTQ Plays And Musicals. 


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