Audra McDonald, actress and singer. (Michael Wilson / handout…)
On the cusp of her Broadway return, starring in the controversial re-imagined production of "Porgy and Bess" (renamed "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess"), four-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald, 41, comes to Orange County on Oct. 15 for a cabaret performance, midway through a two-month cross-country tour.
Your Oct. 15 concert at Segerstrom Center is scheduled for a break between "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess'" out-of-town and Broadway runs?
Yes, we have a couple of months off. We start back up with previews Dec. 17.
What can the audience look forward to?
They can look forward to hearing from composers like Kander and Ebb and Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim, new musical theater composers like Adam Guettel. And Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock and Cole Porter.
And are you singing anything from "Porgy and Bess"?
I don't think so. I have sung "Summertime" in the past in concert, but I probably won't be doing anything. Bess doesn't have any solos in the show. To do anything I sing in the show, I would need all my duetting partners with me.
And they're a little cumbersome, I would think. Is this a natural break or this is an artistic break for you?
Concertizing? Actually, the concerts were all scheduled way before "Porgy and Bess" became an opportunity or possibility for me. I already had these concerts in place when "Porgy and Bess" dropped into my lap, and it was, how do we make both work?
Have you sung Bess before?
This is my first time ever singing Bess. There have been very few other opportunities where I was possibly going to audition, but either it didn't work out or I wasn't what they were looking for. And also, honestly, I just am now starting to feel that I am old enough and have enough life experience to play her, and I hope and pray the vocal stamina to play her eight times a week. It's a heavy role.
Were you at all nervous about changing an opera that's so iconic?
I was very interested in delving into the idea of these characters. Needless to say, "Porgy and Bess" has had its share of controversy from the very beginning. And a lot of people feel that an iconic work can't be touched. And yet there are also people out there who like to reinvestigate works. It's an iconic piece for a reason — it's a masterpiece, it's glorious. But for me, and I know other people out there too feel that a lot of these characters, some people call them archetypes, some people call them stereotypes. Some people look at it in a positive way and other people look at it in a negative way.
Of the former, I gather you're referring to Stephen Sondheim, who criticized the new production in a letter to the editor of the New York Times, saying that Paulus "fails to recognize that Porgy, Bess, Crown, Sportin' Life and the rest are archetypes and intended to be larger than life."
Among many people.
Did that take you by surprise?
I was surprised. I knew how much he loved the piece and so, yes, I was surprised by the letter but not surprised by his passion about the piece.
On another subject, I was looking at your tweets, and I noticed that you tweeted soprano Deborah Voigt that you'd heard that she ran into your doppelgänger sister. What was up with that?
My sister attended the [New York] Philharmonic opening night, and I guess Debbie went over to introduce herself to my sister thinking she was me. She's my much younger sister, but we look a lot alike.
So why is your Twitter name AudraEqualityMC?
That has to do with marriage equality. Certainly as someone who has been [a beneficiary] of the civil rights movement of the '60s, I'm very passionate about marriage equality for all citizens. I'm thrilled we got it passed here in New York this past summer.
And I also gather that you are a big fan of chips.
So much. And for me, if I tweet about them a lot, I won't eat them as much. You know who started me on that? I'm going to blame ["Private Practice's"] Kate Walsh. Kate Walsh loves her chips.