Tony winner Audra McDonald headlines Atlanta Symphony Gala

Theater royalty doesn’t shine much brighter than Audra McDonald. The actress-singer and Broadway legend will be the headliner at the fourth Annual Atlanta Symphony Gala March 8.

The Gala is being held to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Orchestra’s Talent Development Program, which identifies gifted African-American and Latino musicians and gets them ready for acceptance into top music programs, with the ultimate goal to prepare them for careers as professional musicians.

McDonald was happy to come down for an event of such caliber. “They called and asked me to be a part of it,” she says. She was honored and luckily it fit into her schedule. “I think music education is an integral, important part of education,” she says. “It’s necessary. It opens people’s minds.”

As part of her evening with the ASO, McDonald will tackle Broadway numbers and some classical ones as well. She will do some Sondheim, some Gershwin, some Rodgers and Hammerstein, along with a few newer artists. She claims not to have a number one in her repertoire. “There are certain ones I like to do, but there is no favorite,” she says. “It depends on the mood; I love them all.”

The performer has won five Tony Awards, tying her for most awards won (in the acting category) with Angela Lansbury and Julie Harris. By the age of 28 she had already grabbed three of those, for “Carousel,” “Master Class” and “Ragtime.”

Her fourth was for the drama “A Raisin in the Sun,” directed by former Alliance Theatre artistic director Kenny Leon, who now helms True Colors Theatre Company. Her fifth Tony Award came just a few years ago for “Porgy and Bess.” This was also her first award in the Leading Actress category.

She laughs when asked where she keeps her five Tonys. “Around the house, here and there,” she says. Her daughter used her fifth Tony as a prize for a sleepover recently. “They kept me out!” McDonald says.

McDonald is certainly aware that her fan base includes strong support in the LGBT community. “I don’t know why, but I know that I’ve been very supported by the community my entire career,” she says. “I have friends, people who have taken care of me, almost been parents. I try to advocate [for the community] whenever I can.”

She gained a new legion of fans for her work in December’s TV version of “The Sound of Music Live!” It was important for her to be part of that, she says.

“I had worked with the producers (Craig Zadan and Neil Meron) before,” she says. “To take on an iconic show and an iconic role was exciting.” Her Mother Abbess came close to stealing the production, with McDonald singing a version of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” that practically stopped the show. McDonald is happy that a new generation of fans got to see the musical and would be game to do another live theatrical event.

The actress is also known for her role as Dr. Naomi Bennett on the ABC television drama “Private Practice,” which reunited her with Leon, who directed some episodes.

McDonald has performed in the area twice and found acclaim. Having won success on television, film and onstage both in musicals and drama, there is surprisingly something she’d like to do more.

“I’d really like to do Shakespeare,” she admits. It’s also been reported that she will join Oprah Winfrey for a Broadway version of the drama “Night Mother” next season.

A few years ago, the Symphony Gala hosted another musical theater icon. Bernadette Peters came to town for the event not long after she finished her Broadway run of “Follies.”

Fourth Annual Symphony Gala with Audra McDonald
March 8 at 7:30 p.m.
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
1280 Peachtree Street NE, Atlanta, GA 30309