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Audra McDonald brings Broadway to the Long Center

Dale Roe
Singer Audra McDonald is a Grammy and Tony award-winning actress.

Tony and Grammy Award-winning songstress Audra McDonald is headed to the Long Center for Performing Arts on Sunday. The soprano took home her first Tony just a year after graduating from Juilliard; her fifth came in 2012 for her performance in “Porgy and Bess.”

McDonald is a strong supporter of marriage equality, and that means equality for everybody. She recently appeared on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” singing a soul-stirring rendition of Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” while the host officiated a televised wedding ceremony for a straight couple whose nuptials were thwarted by the government shutdown.

I had a chance to chat were her briefly about her background and her amazing talent.

American-Statesman: I recently saw you on ‘The Colbert Report’ and I was blown away.

Audra McDonald: Oh, thank you. He’s so great. I enjoy so much being on that show.

What will we hear when you come to the Long Center?

Well, it’s going to be mainly based on the repertoire from my new album, “Go Back Home.” They’ll also hear songs from the American musical theater songbook — songs from great composers like Stephen Sondheim, Jule Styne and Irving Berlin. There will also be some music from new, young musical theater composers who are starting to make a name for themselves. I love introducing new material to my audiences.

When did you discover you could sing like you can sing?

I come from a really musical family and everybody in my family sings. So, I don’t remember not singing. I say this — and it’s a complete fact — I don’t have the most remarkable voice in my family, either. There are major singers in my family, gorgeous voices. Maybe I’m the one who decided to do it professionally, but my voice isn’t all that special if you compare it to all the other voices in my family.

What types of music did you listen to as a child?

I was exposed to classical music as well as musical theater because I joined a dinner theater as a young performer when I was about 9 years old.

Do you have any guilty pleasures where music is concerned?

No, I don’t feel guilty. It might be stuff that people wouldn’t think that I’d listen to. Now my husband’s looking at me funny. I’m trying to think of things that are on my iPod. I listen to a lot of Esperanza Spalding, but that’s nothing to feel guilty about. I’ve got Earth, Wind and Fire, the Doobie Brothers. … I mean, good music is good music. Oh — Barry Manilow, that’s why he’s laughing at me. I’ve got Barry Manilow. I love him.

You’re a recording artist and you act, sing and perform in musicals. Which is your favorite?

I wouldn’t say I have a favorite. I love it all. But I got my start on the stage, so I say that theater is my first language.

You do seem very comfortable on stage.

I used to pass out a lot; that was a medical condition I had. I had to tackle it head on and one of the ways I tackled it was by becoming more intimate with an audience so that they don’t seem like strangers. So, my concerts probably have more of an intimate and relaxed feel than maybe someone else’s might, but that’s because I need to make friends with my audience so that I don’t get nervous and pass out on them.

Why is marriage equality such an important issue for you?

Because it affects many people in my life and I think it’s a civil rights issue. I want anyone who is of sound body and mind that wants to pledge their life to someone else and marry them to be able to do so.

Do you have to work at singing? It’s hard to imagine you could get better.

Oh … no, no, no. You’re constantly striving to get better. If you don’t strive to get better, I think you die. As far as singing is concerned, your body is constantly changing. You carry that instrument with you wherever you go, so your voice is constantly changing. So, it’s a constant grind — a constant discipline to keep it going. It’s one day at a time, but you can’t possibly rest on your laurels and think, “Well, OK, I’m there. I’ve got my technique down. I know everything I need to know.”

Audra McDonald