Audra McDonald Set To Perform At Weber State University

Sep 06, 2013 | Updated Nov 06, 2013

Broadway star Audra McDonald, winner of a record-tying five Tony Awards, most recently for her breathtaking performance in the title role of "Porgy and Bess," is returning to the concert stage in a national tour that brings her to Ogden for the very first time.

Even those who have not followed her stellar stage career may know her from her four seasons as Dr. Naomi Bennett on the ABC hit "Private Practice," and her guest roles on other popular dramas.

Or maybe you know her as the gal who in 2012 married Utah actor/director Will Swenson ("The Singles Ward," "Sons of Provo"). They performed together in "110 Degrees in the Shade," a benefit for the Orem Hale Theatre, in 2010.

But long before the stage accolades, before the romance with her now-husband, came the incredible voice, a voice on display Saturday, Sept. 7, in Weber State University's Austad Auditorium.

This marks McDonald's first concert tour in four years. The performances will be centered around her new album, "Go Back Home," said McDonald, calling from home in New York.

"And I'll do some songs that didn't quite make it to the album, but I still love, as well as those I've been singing for years. And maybe I'll introduce some new songs as well."

Songs that speak

When an actress is cast in a musical role, the task is to find a way to connect to the songs and make them hers, through the character. In contrast, when a singer steps on a stage for a concert, there is no surrounding story to hook that song to. Thus, the vocalist must give material context, and make them live, sans natural setting.

"Usually what I do is pick songs that speak to me -- songs that have a story to tell," said McDonald. "I say this about myself all the time as an artist -- I do not sing a song well unless I have a reason to sing it. I need to know the why. What does this character want? I bring that to every single song."

As for how she presents a concert, there is no theatrical fourth wall, said McDonald.

"I want to feel like I am in either your living room, or you are in mine, and we are all there to share some wonderful stories. I like to feel an intimate connection between me and the audience. I usually know exactly what I am going to sing, but not exactly what I am going to say in between the songs. For that, I feed off the energy of the audience.

"But, when I am singing each particular song, I look at each as sort of a musical monologue. That's how I try to share my material."

McDonald said the title song from her newest album is a good example of how she personalizes a song to get its story across.

"The song is from Kander and Ebb's 'The Scottsboro Boys,' " she said. "The show is about these African-American boys thrown in jail in the South, and how they just want to get out and go back home. So, that is their story. Then I figured it out from my own standpoint. When I was out in Los Angeles (with "Private Practice"), I was kind of miserable. I wanted to come back to New York, and my family, on a regular basis, and very much wanted to be back in the world of theater. That is my standpoint when I sing it."

A beautiful Bess

In 1935, when George Gershwin first presented his masterful "Porgy and Bess," an African-American blues-based opera, he probably dreamed of someone exactly like McDonald encompassing the role of his troubled leading lady.

McDonald had dreamed of playing the vocally and spiritually demanding lead over her years. She had the voice, the sultry beauty and the considerable acting talents to become one with Bess.

Broadway agreed wholeheartedly, sending her home with her fifth Tony for her 2012 Broadway run -- McDonald's first for a leading role.

"It is a dream role for me," said McDonald. "I wouldn't say it was a joy to play the role, because it was so emotionally draining --I can't say I was happy going there. But it was also so fulfilling, absolutely fulfilling, a role I wanted to do so badly."

As for her Utah visit, she is hoping that hubby Swenson and their children can make the trip. "Our schedules are crazy -- but he most likely will try to get out there to visit family."

As for most of the rest of 2013, McDonald is booked in concert in cities across the nation. And after that? She would only hint at what follows.

"I can't really talk about it just yet -- but let's just say that Broadway is never far from my sights!"

Contact reporter Linda East Brady at 801-625-4279 or Follow her on Twitter @LindaEastBrady.

Gimme 5 (Tonys)

So far, Audra McDonald has received five Tony Awards for performance, tying that lofty record with Angela Lansbury and Julie Harris (who also possessed a sixth honorary Tony). At only 43 years of age, McDonald has plenty of time to keep a few more dream dates with Tony before she takes her final bow.

* 1994 -- Best performance by a featured actress in a musical, "Carousel"

* 1996 -- Best performance by a featured actress in a play, "Master Class"

* 1998 -- Best performance by a featured actress in a musical, "Ragtime"

* 2004 -- Best performance by a featured actress in a play, "A Raisin in the Sun"

* 2012 -- Best performance by a leading lady in a musical, "Porgy and Bess"

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