If you are looking for the chance to say you have seen a legend in her time, this might be it.
At 44, Audra McDonald holds the record for the most competitive Tony Awards ever with six, and is the only performer to have won in all acting categories open to her. She also has two Grammy Awards and three Emmy Award nominations, appearing regularly on TV in roles such as Dr. Naomi Bennett in the ABC series Private Practice and Mother Abbess in NBC's live presentation of The Sound of Music in December 2013. While Carrie Underwood's performance was being buried under a pile of snark, McDonald's Climb Every Mountain was being praised universally.
All of that is a testament to what an electrifying performer McDonald is, particularly live, which is how we will see her Thursday night at the Eastern Kentucky University Center for the Arts in Richmond.
We submitted some questions to her. Here they are, with her responses.
Q: We are so used to seeing you in theater productions and film. Tell us about the show you are bringing to Richmond. Will we see highlights from your career?
A: I will be singing a mix of standards, songs from my most recent solo release, Go Back Home, and some new songs that I added to my repertoire written by some up-and-coming composers.
Q: You are certainly one of the most honored artists of this era. How has your view of awards and their role in the arts changed?
A: It's been an out-of-body experience, pretty overwhelming and nothing I expected. My dream was just to be on Broadway, and everything else has been an honor. I think awards are great in that they bring attention to Broadway and introduce shows to new audiences. However, there are not nearly enough awards to give to all of the amazing performers out there.
Q: You have been part of a number of projects that aim to bring musical theater to a broader audience, including the NBC Sound of Music live. Which of these have been most satisfying to you, and what do you think of efforts to bring musicals to a wider audience in the 21st century?
A: I actually really like the mix and am energized by doing different work. I enjoy doing a play and then a musical and then going on tour, or doing a television project or a film project. I find that they all feed each other and it helps me grow as an artist. I think it's great that movie musicals are having a comeback and networks are staging live productions. There are so many distractions in today's world, so the more outlets we can get to show musicals the better.
Q: Of course, you perform both dramatic and musical roles. Do you find there are ways your musical work informs your dramatic work and vice versa? What sort of role does having a diverse group of forms and venues play in your creative life?
A: I feel like everything informs everything. The best example I can think of is years ago I was doing A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway and I had a couple of nights off for a previously scheduled concert at Carnegie Hall, to do The Seven Deadly Sins. Because I'd just been working with the spoken word, my attention to the lyrics and to the spoken word was a bit more sharply focused than had I not been doing A Raisin in the Sun. And when I went back to A Raisin in the Sun, I found that I was paying more attention to the music, the lyricism, of the words.
Q: One of my favorite Broadway experiences was seeing you and Kentuckian Steve Kazee in 110 in the Shade. What are your memories of performing with Steve, and did you see a future Tony Award-winner in him?
A: It was a dream working with Steve. He is just so sweet and a great friend and acting partner. He is beyond talented, and I expect many more Tony Awards in his future.
Like many outlets these days, we asked readers if they had questions for McDonald. Here are a few we received, mostly from people in the Lexington-area arts community.
Q: What is something you must have before a performance?
A: Before a concert, I like to have some quiet and alone time to myself before I get on stage.
Q: What is your favorite musical that you have not performed?
A: That's a tough one. I think it would be a lot of fun to be in Chicago.
Q: What remedy do you use when you have a cold or sore throat? (Seriously. singers want to know.)
A: Well, you do everything you possibly can. I definitely don't smoke and I don't drink a lot. I try to stay very quiet. I also take pretty much every vitamin known to mankind. Mucinex is also a great help. I think it's important to recognize how much you can get away with vocally and when you need to throw in the towel and just rest.
Q: I'd be interested in your experience taking Lady Day from stage to screen. I consider hers to be one of the most memorable performances I've ever experienced. (McDonald won her latest Tony Award for starring as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill, which HBO brought to television.)
A: Normally, I would dial things back more for television cameras than I would for a staged show. However, Lonny Price, who directed the stage version and the HBO version, told me to perform just the way I would have if I was on Broadway. It was nice because I was able to do what I was used to doing.
Q: Did you ever encounter any racial barriers or typecasts upon initially entering the business of theater? If so, do you still encounter similar situations now or have they practically eliminated themselves due to your status?
A: I'm very lucky in that I've been cast in some roles that are typically played by white women. Colorblind casting has definitely gotten better since when I first started, but we still have some work to do. The best advice I can give anyone starting out is be true to you. If you think you are right for a role, go for it. Refuse to say no to yourself.
Q: What is your vocal exercise regimen? How do you maintain your beautiful, strong voice?
A: Thank you! I take lots of voice lessons and do a classical warm-up before every performance. And as I mentioned earlier, I don't drink or smoke, and I try not to talk a lot.
Q: In at least the two most recent Tony-acceptance speeches, you have talked about being a hyperactive kid who found solace in the theater. I'd like to hear more on that.
A: I was a hyperactive kid, so my parents introduced me to theater as an outlet for my energy. I knew I wanted to be involved when I had my first chance to perform with the Good Company Players Junior Company (in Fresno, Calif., where she was raised). Good Company director Dan Pessano and my mother both had a great impact on my career.