Audra McDonald, the six-time Tony Award-winner, is a theatre legend – and she’s performing in London this summer
Her latest show, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, tells the story of tragic singer Billie Holiday. She’s bringing the show to London after a New York magazine critic hailed her take on the tragic singer as “one of the greatest performances I ever hope to see”.
Audra works in TV and film too, most recently singing up a diva storm in the Beauty and the Beast remake. We caught up with her to talk about the show, her journey, and gay icons.
When asked why Billie Holiday remains an iconic figure for gay men, Audra thinks it comes down to Holiday’s vulnerability: “You’ve got people like Billie and Judy Garland and now Lady Gaga: extraordinary artists who are also open to their vulnerability and I think that resonates.
“I’m drawn to artists who are not only strong but also vulnerable and show endurance over whatever they have to deal with.”
Working in the theatre, Audra is surrounded by gay men – but she has always been around LGBT+ people. She has gay family members “so it’s always been the norm for me,” she says. “I’ve grown up with gay people — they are my family, my friends, my colleagues, my neighbours.
“As for having gay fans, maybe it’s because I’m in the theatre and also because I’ve been vocal about rights for the LGBT+ community.”
Audra is a passionate supporter of LGBT+ causes. She even has the word ‘Equality’ in her Twitter username.
While Audra is one of the most respected figures in American theatre, she still gets nervous when meeting famous people “I’m not very articulate when I’m in Barack Obama’s presence, and the first time I met Julie Andrews she was so lovely and sweet and took time with me,” Audra says.
However, there is one person who left her completely starstruck: “When I passed Beyoncé at the Beauty and the Beast premiere, she said: ‘Nice to see you.’ And all I could say was, ‘Queen!’ Nothing else came out.”