Audra McDonald has been thinking about Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School throughout her concert tour.
“My heart is with them,” McDonald says during a telephone interview from her home in New York. “I’ve been talking about these kids a lot lately. I’ve been dedicating my encore to them and their hopes and dreams, that they are going to save us from ourselves. I fear for them, and I’m proud of them. I sing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ and I dedicate it to them. They’ve been on my mind. I’ve been speaking about this all over the country.”
The six-time Tony Award winner will have the chance to make that speech closer to the survivors of the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland during her concert Wednesday, June 13, at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale. The star of “The Good Fight” will perform songs from her own songbook as well as selections from her new live album, “Sing Happy,” which has her belting hits, backed by the New York Philharmonic, from Broadway musicals such as ‘Company,” “La Cage aux Folles,” “Into the Woods,” “South Pacific” and “Funny Girl.”
McDonald’s own stage successes include “Ragtime,” “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,” “A Raisin in the Sun” and “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.” She is also known for her work on television in series such as “Private Practice,” “The Good Wife” and the live telecast of “The Sound of Music.”
How do you settle on your song selection?
It’s got to mean something to me. To quote Billie Holiday, “If I can’t feel it, I can’t sing it.” I have to have some sort of connection to it.
I hear there’s a little sociopolitical archness to the songs you have picked from the American songbook. True?
I didn’t set out to sing songs that have to do with the zeitgeist, this world, this country, this administration. But it just happened that I ended up singing songs that make sure that we are teaching our children the right things, teaching them not to hate, songs that celebrate who you are, being proud of who you are. It just came together, songs about love and humanity, when I look back.
Do the dynamics change, or do you change the way you perform when you are onstage in a New York theater, which is actually very intimate, as opposed to the big halls of a performing-arts center?
I don’t feel that I do. I just try to make it feel like we are in someone’s living room getting to know each other. I’m opening up my heart and soul and finding our shared humanity. I may be singing from my particular vantage point, but I think we’re saying something universal. I focus very hard on the why of the song.
How did the live album “Sing Happy” come about? Did you know you wanted to record the performance with the New York Philharmonic and planned it accordingly or did it all kind of fall into place?
A bit of both. I always wanted to do a live album — always, always, always. They asked me to be the artist for their annual gala. Then, we were approached by Decca Records, who said, “How would you like to turn that into an album?” I guess it was planned in that I put it out in the universe that it was something I’ve always wanted to do. And the Philharmonic, there’s no one like them. I’ve song with them many times. I feel very safe with them. And I know a lot of the musicians in that orchestra. It feels like I’m singing with family, and Lincoln Center is basically my second home, having gone to school there and performing there over the years.
Whenever you’re on the red carpet or appearing on late-night TV talk shows, you’re always very glamorous. But I read somewhere that you consider yourself a tomboy at heart. Is that true?
I’m a total tomboy. Growing up, my sister was really into Barbie dolls and the Dream House, and I had Legos. When I shop up for sound checks, I do think people are a little in shock at what they see. I can clean up nice, but for something like that I’m in Chucks [Taylor sneakers], jeans and some sort of bandanna around my hair. And I don’t wear makeup in regular life, only onstage. And that’s always been me. If I can get away with jean shorts, I will. If you come into my closet in my bedroom, it’s jeans, shirts and sneakers and in the other closet in another room it’s gowns and heels. That closet is only work clothes.
So I guess that closet is where you have the “Audra” bag that Louis Vuitton named in your honor?
I don’t have any. I found that out awhile back. I don’t think they make them anymore. I’ve seen them online, but I don’t have one.
Audra McDonald will perform 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 13, at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $25-$145. To order, call 954-462-0222 or go to BrowardCenter.org.