Broadway's Audra McDonald Launches the UH Madison Artist Series

Broadway's Audra McDonald Launches the UH Madison Artist Series
All photos by Autumn de Wilde

Award winning actress and singer Audra McDonald returns to Houston, where she made her opera debut in 2006, for the first of the University of Houston Moores School of Music's Madison Artist Series. During her time here, McDonald performs in a public concert and leads a private master class for Moores School students.

Songs from her newest CD, her first solo album in seven years, Go Back Home along with Broadway tunes and jazz standards are on the set list. "There will definitely be something for everyone," McDonald tells us. "We'll be doing a good mix of standards from the great American songbook, favorite showtunes, some pop songs, and of course, newer songs by some of the musical theater composers who've become my dear friends."

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With her busy performing schedule, McDonald doesn't often have time to lead master classes. She says she's looking forward to the session with the UH students. "You learn so much about yourself as a teacher. The student's questions really force you to take a look at your own work. Aside from not putting limitations on oneself, I always tell students to get on stage. Anywhere. You learn something every single time you step on stage."

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With her choice of theater, film and television projects, classical and pop music concerts, McDonald has a simple rule when making plans for future performances. "I am always looking for something that's going to challenge me," McDonald tells us. "I'm someone who is always willing to take a risk. I am okay with failure as long as I give whatever I am doing 100 percent."

Because of that attitude - and a huge amount of talent and versatility - McDonald has had a singular career. She's won dozens of awards over her career, for performances as a classical and pop singer, and as an actor onstage, in film and on television. Among the most prestigious are two Grammy awards for recorded classical music (Best Opera Recording and Best Classical Album for Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny with Los Angeles Opera), five Drama Desk awards and six Tony awards for theatrical performances.

McDonald picked up her sixth Tony award (a number matched only by Julie Harris) for her performance last year in Lanie Robertson's play with music, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill, a biographical play-with-music chronicling the life of Billie Holiday. McDonald performed several of Holiday's most popular songs such as "Strange Fruit," "God Bless the Child" and "Taint Nobody's Biz-ness" in the show. There's a broadcast of McDonald's performance in Lady Day planned for HBO later this year. (A live performance at Cafe Brasil in New Orleans was recorded earlier this year.)

The acclamations and awards can be daunting. "It can be overwhelming when I begin to think about everything I've done. Honestly, I am just taking it one day at a time.I've been very lucky in that I've been able to pave my own path I'm just so grateful that I get to do what I love for a living and am focused on the next challenge."

McDonald performs at 7 p.m. March 10. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. For information, call 713-222-5400 or visit houstonfirsttheaters.com. $40 to $125.


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