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What’s Up, Audra McDonald? The Five-Time Tony Winner Previews Her New CD and PBS Special Go Back Home

What’s Up, Audra McDonald? The Five-Time Tony Winner Previews Her New CD and PBS Special Go Back Home
Audra McDonald
'I am so in love with my family and so in love with Will; as long as everybody is happy, I’m good.'

After a seven-year wait, Audra McDonald fans finally have a new solo CD to enjoy, Go Back Home (Nonesuch), and the five-time Tony winner is previewing the eclectic collection in a PBS concert set to air on May 24. (McDonald does double duty, hosting as well as headlining her concert on Live From Lincoln Center.) chatted with the popular star about her musical taste, her love of Twitter and how she juggles life with husband Will Swenson (who opened on May 21 in Murder Ballad) and kids Zoe, Bridger and Sawyer.

You’ve said that your beautiful new album Go Back Home felt especially personal. Why?
It was an album that took me a long to do because I felt like I didn’t have anything to say. But this past year was the culmination of a lot of things in my life: coming back home [after leaving TV’s Private Practice], doing Porgy and Bess and getting remarried. I took a step back and realized, “Oh, I have a lot to say.” From that point, everything came together very quickly. We recorded it on three Mondays over a three-week period.

Every composer in America would love for you to record their music. How did you choose these 12 songs?
For me, it’s always visceral. This is a mix of songs I have been singing for a long time, like “The Glamorous Life” [from A Little Night Music] and “Go Back Home” [from The Scottsboro Boys] and others that were introduced to me, like material from Adam Gwon [“I’ll Be Here,” from Ordinary Days]. Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich sent over “Baltimore” [a song about dating a series of losers in the title city] and I said, “I love this one!”

”Baltimore” has some of the twistiest, most complicated lyrics imaginable.
The wordier, the better! I like that I’m finally getting to getting to sing the words “REO Speedwagon.” [Laughs.] That’s a song Marcy and Zina wrote based on their personal experience, and I identified with it in my own life—maybe not that particular city, but in another city and in my earlier years of dating.

You have a long history with Lincoln Center, from Juilliard to Carousel and Marie Christine and now as host and concert star in Live From Lincoln Center.
I lived in the residence hall at Juilliard, so I can literally call it my home. Live From Lincoln Center was something I watched when I was a little girl in Fresno, California, so it was an honor to be asked to host the show in the great tradition of Beverly Sills. I hope I can inspire some other little girl by saying, “This is great music. How does it make you feel?”

You’re very active on Twitter [@AudraEqualityMc]. What do you enjoy about it?
I joined Twitter out of anger after marriage equality didn’t pass in New York and after the whole Prop. 8 situation. I was upset with my state and wanted to voice my outrage and go on record saying that marriage equality should be passed. Now, it’s just fun. It’s a great way to communicate with fans.

Will [Swenson] just opened in Murder Ballad. How do you balance two busy acting careers?
Every day is a scheduling challenge. We have three kids in three different schools in different parts of Westchester County, and we’ve got two dogs, so it’s a big juggling act. It’s like, “OK, from 3:00 to 4:00, can you get the dogs walked? I’ll go pick up this one. Can you take that one to piano because I’ve got a preview?” But because we do the same thing for a living, there’s an appreciation and an understanding. If I was married to someone in a completely different field, he might be a lot more frustrated with me than Will is.

What do you think of Murder Ballad?
I love it! I’ve seen it eight or nine times now, from the first workshop and then at Manhattan Theatre Club and now down [at the Union Square Theatre], and it makes my heart pound every time. I think the incarnation they’ve got going now is wonderful, and I think Caissie Levy is an incredible addition to the show.

Do you foresee any of your kids following you and Will into show business?
Who knows? They’re very, very talented kids, but they all have a mind of their own. All that matters is that they do whatever makes them happy. I am so in love with my family and so in love with Will; as long as everybody is happy, I’m good.

There’s been talk about you playing Aretha Franklin in a biographical movie. How do you feel about that?
Speculation like that happens all the time [laughs]. She’s a deep, amazing person with a great history and legacy, so of course it would be an honor to play her. If it happens, great. If not, I’m sure someone else will do her justice.

When can we expect to see you on Broadway again?
Not this season, but soon!

Would I be able to guess the show?
No. You can guess, but I won’t tell!

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