In conversation with Audra McDonald: a journey through music, theatre, and advocacy

Audra McDonald, revered for her transcendent performances on Broadway and beyond, is set to enchant audiences in Australia with her upcoming concert.

With a career adorned with a record-breaking six Tony Awards, two Grammy Awards, and an Emmy Award, she stands as a beacon of excellence, captivating audiences with her soprano voice and profound ability to convey the essence of human experience. From her captivating performances on Broadway to her compelling portrayals on screen, her versatility and authenticity have solidified her status as a true luminary of the stage and screen. In an exclusive interview, McDonald offered poignant insights into her craft and the transformative power of storytelling.

Audra McDonald and Bryce Pinkham in The Ohio State Murders | Photo by Sara Krulwich

Audra McDonald’s theatrical repertoire boasts an impressive array of roles, each demanding a unique set of vocal skills. From her portrayal of Sarah in Ragtime to Bess in Porgy and Bess, the complex character of The Beggar Woman in Sweeney Todd, to her riveting performance as Billie Holiday in Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar and Grill, McDonald has navigated diverse vocal landscapes with finesse. However, she acknowledges the rigorous demands placed on performers who must seamlessly transition from role to role and style to style. “You rely on technique. I have a voice teacher I’ve been working with for many, many years… since 1995. And when I’m doing a show, I’m usually at his studio two or three times a week. You have to live a very quiet, mouse-like life, which is hard to do as a mom,” she reflects. “When I first started out, in the days where you had to go on vocal rest, there were no cell phones. You just literally walked around with a pad of paper and a pencil, and you’re writing. Now you can text, but you know, there’s no smoking, no drinking, no eating spicy food… You’re living like a monk, basically. I don’t think people really understand the sort of physical toll that performing takes.”

In a landscape where Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) performers have historically been underrepresented, McDonald’s presence has been a beacon of change. Beyond her achievements on stage, McDonald has been an outspoken advocate for diversity and inclusion in theatre, calling attention to the need for greater representation both on stage and behind the scenes, with her advocacy including co-founding Black Theatre United, a coalition aimed at addressing systemic racism in the theatre industry and beyond. “I’m aware of the impact that had on me growing up as well,” she acknowledges. Recounting poignant encounters with young admirers, she underscores the transformative power of seeing oneself reflected on stage.

It was when I would see someone who looked like me up there playing a role. I was able to say ‘Oh, she’s there, she’s doing it. Maybe there is a path.’ And that’s power. That’s fuel. Seeing oneself then helps you to be seen.

Audra as Billie Holiday in Lady Day | Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva

McDonald’s career is a tapestry woven with many memorable roles, each with their own personal significance. “I sort of look at all my roles as children. You can’t pick a favourite,” she laughs. Nevertheless, she offers insights into recent portrayals that have left an indelible mark on her artistic journey. From her emotionally-charged performance in the 2023 play Ohio State Murders to her poignant portrayal of Billie Holiday in Lady Day, McDonald reflects on the profound themes and transformative experiences each role has afforded her, reaffirming her commitment to storytelling as a vessel for empathy and understanding.

As anticipation mounts for her Australian tour, McDonald offers a glimpse into what audiences can expect. “It’s going to be a lot of familiar, bread and butter, golden age composers,” she shares, but adds that there will be some childhood favourites, as well as some more contemporary music. Promising an evening of intimacy and connection, McDonald endeavours to dissolve the barriers between performer and audience, inviting spectators into a world of authenticity and spontaneity. “It’s not really scripted. My hope is that by the end of the evening, the audience feels like we were all hanging out in my living room. I know them better, and they know me better, and we know ourselves a little better by the end of the night.”

When asked what advice she would share with her younger self, McDonald takes a moment to reflect. “I would tell that child that you’re on your path. Trust that all of who you are is all you’ll need to move forward, and what you have and who you are is what is needed. And then I would tell myself to give myself grace.”

As she prepares to perform across Australia, her concert promises an evening of beauty and intimacy. Don’t miss the chance to experience Audra McDonald live – grab your tickets now for an unforgettable night of music and storytelling.

Audra’s Australian tour commences on May 4th at the Crown Theatre, Perth, before moving through Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne.

For tickets and more information, please visit the Concertworks website.

Gabi Bergman

Gabi Bergman is a Melbourne-based performer and educator, and is the current Deputy Editor-in-Chief of She holds a Double Arts degree in Theatre Studies and Film/Screen Studies and a Master of Teaching (Secondary Education). Gabi has always been an avid lover of theatre, specifically musicals, and spends way too much money than she’d like to admit on tickets. Her most prized possession is her crate of theatre programs.

Gabi Bergman

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