Atlanta Music Scene

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Audra McDonald talks live show, 'The Good Fight' and a return to Broadway


Maybe you know Audra McDonald from her astounding mid-‘90s run on Broadway in “Carousel,” “Master Class” and “Ragtime.”

Or perhaps her name and face are familiar from the six years she spent in Shondaland on “Private Practice,” as Dr. Naomi Bennett.

Then, of course, there is her most recent spate of Broadway successes — her 2014 Tony-winning performance in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” and her praiseworthy role in 2016’s “Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed,” which closed following her departure.

A theater industry powerhouse — McDonald is the only person to win six Tony Awards as well as the only person to claim all four female acting categories — she returned to the stage last summer in London’s West End to reprise her Billie Holiday interpretation in “Lady Day.”

Young fans might recall her playing opera singer Madame de Garderobe in last year’s live-action movie version of “Beauty and the Beast”; and this weekend, the multi-hyphenate will revisit her role as attorney Liz Lawrence in “The Good Fight,” the CBS All Access spinoff from “The Good Wife,” in which she appeared in the fourth season.

Amid all of the professional juggling, McDonald, 47, and actor-singer husband Will Swenson welcomed daughter Sally James in October 2016.

Sally James will be with her mom on Saturday when McDonald’s other professional gig at the moment — a spring tour — pulls into Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

The ever-busy McDonald checked in earlier this week from her home base of New York to talk about her Atlanta concert, her thoughts on a new album and a potential return to Broadway.

Q: You’re doing live shows, working on “The Good Fight,” raising a little one — how do you manage it all?

A: My schedule is constantly changing. Every day I tell myself to put one foot in front of the other! At least “The Good Fight” films in New York, so it’s much easier to commute to Brooklyn — which can be a commute as well. But it’s still much easier than JFK to LAX.

Q: You’re doing quite a few dates this spring. What made this the right time to concentrate on a tour?

A: The baby is old enough that she can come with me for a lot of it, and there was just music to be made. The tour had fallen into place before “The Good Fight” had come a-knockin. (Sally James) was with me a lot last year when we promoted “Beauty and the Beast” and lived in London (during the West End run of “Lady Day”). She’s used to it. She’s got her own frequent flyer miles.

Q: The theme of the show is “Songs From the American Theater,” which is self-explanatory, but how did you come up with this set list?

A: I wish there was some sort of scientific method. I go through and find songs that speak to me and generate some sort of reaction in me. I know pretty quickly if I want to sing a song, in the first couple of seconds. It’s what speaks to me, what can I be truthful about. That’s where everything comes from. Is there a kernel of truth?

Q: Who do you have with you on stage?

A: A trio, my band that’s been with me for 10 years. It’s like being in a living room and getting to know each other. I want people to know a little more about me. I try to give some context to the songs. I don’t really have a set patter. I’ll just talk to the audience about what my day was like, or something about the city I’m in or ask the audience advice about where we should have dinner. It’s about sharing. It’s a chance to get to know me outside of all the roles I’ve played. It’s an intimate evening. The whole idea is to have a fuller understanding of me.

Q: You did “Shuffle Along” a couple of years ago and “Lady Day…” last year in the West End, so isn’t it time to get back to Broadway?

A: (Laughs) I am. I don’t like to talk about anything too early, but yes, for sure.

Q: You worked with (Tony-winning Atlanta-based director) Kenny Leon back in 2004 on “A Raisin in the Sun.” Do you get to see him much?

A: I do, every once in a while. He’s a wonderful man, and a wonderful director.

Q: Your last solo album was in 2013. Might we hear another soon?

A: I’m hoping to get another one out in the next couple of years. I’ve been so busy doing shows and then had a baby. I don’t like to force them out. I want to have something to say.

CONCERT PREVIEW

Audra McDonald

8 p.m. Saturday. $47-$197. Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com.

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About the Author

Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Melissa Ruggieri covers the Atlanta Music Scene and entertainment news for print and online.