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After Audra McDonald's Historic Tony Award Win, Will Hollywood Finally Fully Embrace Her Talent?

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by Tambay A. Obenson
June 11, 2012 9:31 AM
38 Comments
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Congratulations are in order for Audra McDonald who made history during last night's Tony Awards celebration, becoming the first black woman to claim 5 Tony Award wins; last night's pickup for Best Leading Actress In A Musical (for Porgy & Bess), also tied the record held by Angela Lansbury and Julie Harris.

I should note that she's just 41 years old, and, according to IBDB.com (the Internet Broadway Database), she's appeared in just 10 Broadway shows, starting in 1991 through the pressent. Talk about talent and recognition; 10 Broadway shows, and she won Tony Awards for her performances in half of them. To help put this into some perspective, imagine a Hollywood actress making 10 movies over a 20 year period, and winning Academy Awards (whether supporting or lead) for her performances in 5 of them.

You'd think that maybe all that talent and success would transfer to TV and/or film, but it hasn't quite done so. Her last big screen role was a minor, thankless part in last year's Rampart. On TV, she was on the Shonda Rhimes-created ABC medical drama Private Practice from 2007 to 2011 (although from what I hear, she was under-utilized), before leaving to head back to Broadway to star in Porgy & Bess.

She also appeared in some TV movies - Wit in 2001, and A Raisin In The Sun in 2008; she received Emmy nominations for her performances in both TV movies - Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie; so almost everything she's touched, whether on screen or on stage, has been critically recognized, and you'd think that she'd be appearing in far more work than she is currently, especially in what we'd call leading lady roles, both on TV and in film.

I think of Viola Davis being in a similar position; black woman actress, routinely critically lauded for her performances (stage, TV and film), and still relatively under-used - until very recently anyway (part of that being due to her own proactive efforts in forming a producton company, and packaging projects for herself). 

But I suppose that's a song one could also sing for a few other lesser-known actresses.

However, with last night's historic win - a win that will hopefully help raise even further awareness of her and her abilities - I'd expect to see Audra get more looks for TV and film projects. Glancing over her IMDBPro page, she has absolutely nothing listed in the "Projects in development" category; however, I should note that the musical's run, which was originally scheduled to end on July 8, was extended to September 30 - an almost 3-month extension, which suggests that it must be doing really well for them to have that much confidence that it'll continue through the fall.

So Audra will be tied up on Broadway for about 4 more months, as it was confirmed that she would stay on with the show through the end of its extension! What comes after that for her is still a mystery; but I'd say that she deserves much more than a forgettable bit part as one of Woody Harrelson's one-night-stands in Rampart.

I should also note that Aretha Franklin reportedly has set her sights on Audra to star in her biopic; although, Aretha has had her sites on a number of other actresses to play her in a film about her life. And would Audra even want to do it if offered?

One could argue that there just isn't as much of a mainstream awareness of her (despite how well-known she is on the theatre circuit), which might be a hinderance. But with what we could call the "broadening of Broadway" in recent years, as Broadway producers welcome Hollywood actors with open arms (reviving, adapting, or "blackening" familiar, existing shows), in order to reach beyond typical theatre audiences, and boost ticket sales, lauded stage actresses like Audra McDonald might be introduced to audiences who weren't already fully aware of her and her talents.

And that new awareness could translate into more, plumper offers in both TV and film - assuming of course that she wants those oppotunities; and I'll say that she most certainly does. She's an actress, and I'm sure she'd like to work (on hopefully great projects), and do so consistently. And let's face it, "black shows" on Broadway (or shows with roles for black actors - specifically leading roles) aren't exactly plentiful. So it's only logical that an actress of Audra's caliber would definitely keep all her options open. Plus she's done some TV and film anyway, suggesting that she most certainly is interested in working outside of the theater circuit.

I should also note that she routinely performs in concerts throughout the US primarily (shes also an opera/classical music singer, with two Grammy Awards and four albums), so earning an income likely isn't a problem for her. But... let's see what happens in the next few months with regards to her acting career.

Being the multi-talent-threat that she is, I'd obviously love to get an interview with her, especially after last night's win. And I'll make an effort to do so. But if anyone reading this can assist in making that happen, please email me (obensont@gmail.com).

In addition to Audra's win, other wins of note include: the Raisin In The Sun-inspired Clybourne Park (which Wendell Pierce is a producer on; I saw it and reviewed the play HERE) winning the Tony for Best Play, and Porgy & Bess winning the Tony for Best Revival Of A Musical (it won 2 awards).

Audra's win makes her only the 7th black woman to win a Tony Award in the category she won for last night - Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical. The last time was when LaChanze won the award for her performance in The Color Purple, in 2006.

Watch her emotional Porgy & Bess acceptance speech below:

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38 Comments

  • popGeezer | June 20, 2012 4:14 PMReply

    Audra McDonald is indeed magnificent, and a talent of the highest and rarest caliber. And yes, today's series television has a problem utilizing contemporary Broadway talent. Kristin Chenoweth and Nathan Lane have been more successful as talk-show guests than as series leads, yet both of them are solid supporting actors at the movies film. McDonald's run on "Private Practice", though it did not tax her talents, was a good long one, and Taye Diggs is still employed there as well. Maybe ABC Family's "Bunheads" attempt to put another Broadway leading lady - Sutton Foster - on TV screens weekly will go well and maybe help open doors. Broadway likes to use TV people to sell tickets, now TV should return the favor. Of course there are issues impacting McDonald's film/TV work other than her Broadway background. Which is a great shame, and - in this day and age - just really dumb.

    I saw we just load up one TV show with everybody we can find - McDonald, Chenoweth, Lane, Menzel, Cerveris, Esparza - and then we can.... oh, wait. "Smash" has pretty much killed that idea ever working, huh?

  • ccc | June 14, 2012 11:42 AMReply

    cc

  • ska-triumph | June 13, 2012 7:44 PMReply

    Before I read my fellow commenters: Unless Lady Audra is willing to co-create and/or produce a solid show or film that she's gonna be the lead in - something gritty, or polished, but with weight/pathos - she should keep ringing up great performances on the stage. Though I'd pay to see her and Viola Davis tear it up together - as sisters, friends, frenemies, et al. - in any medium. Is something reading this? Get to writing... Vigilance!

  • Tarisha | June 13, 2012 3:24 AMReply

    Im glad she left PP and went back to Broadway. Thats where she shines! As long as white people are writing television, they will never write 3 dimensional roles for black women or women of color period. We are always just gonna be the "filler" to fulfill the race quota for demographic purposes. She needs to produce and star in her own projects.
    Hollywood dont know what to do with a beautiful non- stereotypical black woman who sings Opera. Theyre still stuck on skin color.

  • mel | June 12, 2012 5:42 PMReply

    I watched Private practice just for her, and honestly that show was not for her. It was just very....light and fluffy and full of nothing. I'm not saying that as a knock to Shonda or the other actors, because there are a lot of movies and shows I like that are pretty light as well, but this particular one did not seem to be a great 'fit' for her. I would love to see her stripped down something amazing. Something that really utilizes her talents etc. but those roles seem hard to come by...and the very few times they do, they seem to go to the usual suspects.

  • noel | June 12, 2012 4:58 AMReply

    Not a clue who she is/was until this very moment. Probably, she is known mainly in the States. Why should such a talent be unexposed? I agree she should do some films whether she is a millionaire or not. And it isn't an issue of her not needing hollywood validation, its more her talent needing more or I dare say proper exposure. looking forward to reading her interview

  • noel | June 13, 2012 5:28 AM

    I have read it...fine, she can do whatever she wants to.

  • WOW | June 12, 2012 9:20 AM

    proper exposure??!! It's more about what? "unexposed"? Seriously?! Read David's, Adam Scott Thompson's, CareyCarey's and SKEE's comments "below".

  • Akelah | June 11, 2012 7:53 PMReply

    I saw an interview with her saying how she left Private Practice due to her daughter and her life being primarily in NY but they shot it in LA and it was too much for her to be back and forth. She said she enjoyed working on the show though, so hopefully she will do more t.v. in the future.

  • LeonRaymond | June 11, 2012 5:11 PMReply

    Ah yeah, can you believe this Guy, Okay,@Prospective, my saying about ratings was to respond to the mere simple fact and nothing MORE that If what you state is true I would think viewership of the broadcast of the Tony's would be higher, and TYLER PERRY who the FU*K is he, AND and she has to walk around with a BODYGUARD UH OKAY, and DUDE !!! I was doing film, eat sleeping and drinking it when you were just a tad old. Numbers , this is after all a FILM SITE we discuss actors in film even before they cross or or do not wish to cross over we discuss film Indie or otherwise, Micro budget, shot with a I PHONE or super expensive film camera we debate film, I am sure there is a site like this one that debates Theater and Broadway and Audra a superior actress to Viola Davis, DUDE YOU NEED REHAB!!!!!!!

  • Laura | June 11, 2012 5:08 PMReply

    This discussion of Audra McDonald remind me of the late actor Jerry orgasm. He was one of the original actors in the first incarnation of Law and Order. He played the older gruffy detective. He was a musical theatre performer. He sang and act. He performed in a lot of broadway classics. I got to see him in that one role. I think of Audrey McDonald the same way. We probably won't get a chance to see her perform much in film and televison And if we do we probably wont get the display of her talents. (I'm typing on an iPhone so it may read lime gibberish).

  • Laura | June 11, 2012 7:01 PM

    I know ; )

  • Akimbo | June 11, 2012 6:06 PM

    I know. It was still funny.

  • Laura | June 11, 2012 6:00 PM

    @Akimbo. Hey I was typing on my iphone

  • Akimbo | June 11, 2012 5:38 PM

    LOL at "Jerry Orgasm!" My mom LOVED Jerry Orbach (though he wasn't actually in that first season of L&O). I liked him, too, though 'Lenny' got on my nerves with the wisecracking sometimes.

  • prospective | June 11, 2012 4:23 PMReply

    Tambay, my brother, you're getting it all WRONG!

    A couple of things:

    1) Audra Mcdonald is a household name within the theater industry. Theater is a rawer, more passionate artform that film acting. She does not need Hollywood to validate her. You have to understand the politics of the classical music world: these people FROWN upon Hollywood, they think it is beneath them. Audra is a Juilliard-trained Soprano who lives and breathes theater. Do you really think she wants to be starring in Tyler Perry flicks? Hell no. She realizes that Broadway is a much more sophisticated genre than film.

    2) Audra Mcdonald is already a millionaire (from her theater career). She is not in need of money.

    3) Audra Mcdonald is a superior actress over Viola Davis. People forget that two of Audra's five Tony's came from non-musicals ("Raisin in the Sun" and "Master Class"). The woman is as excellent an actress as she is a singer.

    I WISH WE WOULD STOP RUINING BLACK TALENT BY ENCOURAGING THEM TO "GO HOLLYWOOD."

  • Akimbo | June 11, 2012 5:35 PM

    I can't help but think that you meant your name to be "PERspective," because you really seem to think you've got Audra's all figured out. NO ONE IS DISSING THEATRE- many of us here love it just as much as we do cinema and television- but we have the sense enough to recognize that there are larger platforms out there for actors. I don't know why you feel the need to keep roping Tyler Perry and whatever else you can grab onto into this, but I see that you've wisely kept Viola out this time. Since you're so intent on clarifying who is beneath what, I offer YOU some perspective : Viola > Audra >>>>>>>>>> Tyler Perry. Now please calm down.

  • prospective | June 11, 2012 4:59 PM

    The bottom line is this: stop assuming that more money and a "Hollywood film career" is what every artist wants. Many theater artists believe that theater is the "superior" art form. I am pretty sure Audra Mcdonald is one of those people. Look up any interview with her, she's clear about the fact that she wanted to be a BROADWAY ACTRESS her ENTIRE life. NOT a FILM ACTRESS.

    It's not that she doesn't respect the medium of film (obviously, since she has appeared in film roles) it's just not her calling.

    And LeonRaymond, you sound thoroughly ridiculous. Your comment about "Family Guy" having a higher viewership than the "Tony's" is so ridiculous. Once again, like so many in the Tyler Perry generation, you are adequating NUMBERS with QUALITY. You remind me of white film executives that tell black filmmakers not to make progressive films because they won't "sell" as well to mainstream audiences.

    It's obvious from reading this post (and the comments in it) that many of you have no real familiarity with the theatre world, and its politics. Broadway actors like Audra Mcdonald make millions of dollars. This woman cannot travel on the streets of New York City alone without a bodyguard.

    I know it's difficult for some filmmakers/students to believe that not everyone wants to be in Hollywood, but sorry folks: it's true.

  • LeonRaymond | June 11, 2012 4:39 PM

    MY BROTHER, I THINK YOU GOT ALL WRONG, No one here is suggesting that she would ruin her talent by doing film or TV, we are and since this is a film site and we don't have that view point, we are supporting that she can be even bigger on a world stage by hoping she would be our answer to all those Giant White female actors who don't have even a dash of her pedigre. Look at the ratings for the telecast of the TONY'S it got beat by a re-run of FAMILY GUY so who's fooling who if your suggesting she would her talents, there is a wealth of film opps from super talent folks even on this site here, She just has to be very very picky and with Money brings time and I would say she has the time to do so. Now a superior actress over VIOLA DAVIS, uh here's a pillow and a sedative for you to go back to sleep. Line up a Audra McDonald performance on TV even and then Line up a Viola Davis one and see who really chewed up the scenery!!!!

  • Akimbo | June 11, 2012 4:34 PM

    You lost me at #3. Audra may be able to sing circles around Viola, but she simply can not go head-to-head with her when it comes to acting. I've seen both of them on stage and on screen and there's no comparison. Viola has two Tonys for dramatic acting, too, so...there THAT goes. I feel like a lot of people here are using their personal biases to put words in Audra's mouth/thoughts in her head. None of us know what her career goals are, we only know what she's done in the past, so all the "she don't need" and "this is better than that" is pointless.

  • LeonRaymond | June 11, 2012 4:19 PMReply

    Oh yeah and about the Aretha Franklin Bio Pic Audra, Run for your life, Run, away and stay as far away from that as you can, that project is tainted and no one will be able to do that role justice the way Aretha wants them to!!!

  • LeonRaymond | June 11, 2012 4:13 PMReply

    I too thought she would be Godzilla big by now also, but I thought the same for Daphne Rubin-Vega and maybe it has to do with the transfer from one medium to another. But after 5 Tony wins and being that well respected , I would say the right project will blast them both to where they want to be if they want to be in films and or deeper TV but it also appears to have a lot to do with scheduling. But now that I think about it , the brother who appeared on stage in RENT and was on Law and order for so many years, I would think he also would be getting some sweet roles, the same for Adina Menzel, so wait it may have to do with Broadway actors even though the training for the stage is the best you can get when it comes time for film, but there is something to wonder about!!!!

  • Orville | June 11, 2012 3:51 PMReply

    I am not sure the point of Tambay's essay is? Audra is successful she's won five Tony awards and she's working!

    But I've seen Audra on Private Practice and I am not that impressed. I think it is a bit of joke that Tambay is comparing Audra to Viola Davis who is a superior actress in film.

    Audra has good on the stage but she hasn't done anything worthwhile in television and film.

    Maybe Audra McDonald doesn't want to be a household name or a Hollywood star and maybe she's just happy being a working actress? I don't think people should feel sorry for Audra I am sure she's making good money being in Porgy & Bess and I hear the box office for the play on Broadway is huge.

  • No | June 11, 2012 2:05 PMReply

    I don't have a dog in this fight, but it is truly amazing that wanting the best for an actor -- more roles in multiple platforms -- could be seen as trying to "pimp" an actor's talent. I took Tambay's essay as a lament regarding Ms. MacDonald's underutilization in TV and films. Weird.

  • David | June 11, 2012 10:49 PM

    The point it, maybe *she* doesn't feel underutilized. That she's perfectly content excelling in her chosen platforms. Maybe we should stop playing armchair agent and projecting our own needs, wants and insecurities. She's a huge talent, is doing fine and has her priorities in order (touching shout to her daughter was a classy touch).

  • jenny lansing | June 11, 2012 2:00 PMReply

    Hearty Congrats, Ms. McDonald! Your statement about the unsavory aspects of Bess' life makes me yearn for the day (hopefully TOMORROW) when Hollywood and Broadway showcase many black peoples' lives the way they REALLY are -- normal. Back when Porgy and Bess were being shopped as a film, the two eventual leads turned the roles down because of the portrayals of drug use, etc. Sidney Portier was threatened that he would never work in Hollywood again if he did not take the role. Audra was right to not want to take the role. It's time black people started writing more realistic roles for our artists. White men wrote Porgy and Bess and Dreamgirls -- and they are both unrealistic, insulting messes!

  • Skee | June 11, 2012 11:03 AMReply

    Audra is content with doing stage work. She knows her place. Not every actor wants to be on television or a movie screen. Stop trying to pimp her talent.

  • CareyCarey | June 11, 2012 2:58 PM

    Oh Jenny, you too are missing the point. Who said this is about "big bucks"? And aren't you being rather presumtuous by stating "Her talent would be seen by MANY more appreciative people if she were in movies and on tv"? Lets see, she has been in movies and tv, right?, but how many "appreciative people" can name those shows and her characters? I'm betting crickets, and insomniacs. And for your information "stop trying to pimp her talent" is a colloquialism similar to "stop counting his money" and "get out of her pocket". If you don't know what they mean, maybe you should ask someone before rendering a paper thin retort. Geez... arm-chair talent agents, they no not what they do :-)

  • jenny lansing | June 11, 2012 1:40 PM

    Skee, what a strange comment. If Audra didn't want to do television she wouldn't have done it. She was good in television -- as she's good in anything else. How do you know she is content with JUST stage work? Her talent would be seen by MANY more appreciative people if she were in movies and on tv. And "pimping" has nothing to do with it! If Hugh Jackman, Neil Patrick Harris, and Angela Lansbury could big bucks from the movies, tv, AND the stage, so can Audra! OBVIOUSLY.

  • CareyCarey | June 11, 2012 12:10 PM

    Wait Curtis, don't make your move to soon. Let's look at the big picture. Just because a person participated in something in their past, does not mean they would automatically desire to do so in the present. It's really silly to think otherwise. More importantly, as many have implied, we don't know what drive Audra. I do know there's a special rush, exitement and thrill from being in front of a live audience. Also, if money is the driving force behind a performers "dreams" and affections, who knows what Audra is receiving from her broadway stay? And, who knows what she would receive from movies and TV? There's something else to consider. She won for Best Leading Actress In A Musical. So obviously her perfomance and reward was connected to her singing talent. Does that automatically translate to a long career in front of the camera? I don't believe so. So again I am suggesting that although she has been in front of the camera in tv and films, she may have come to the realization that Theater is best for her. I don't know. Also, there's something else to consider when one is questioning whether or not tv is for them. Aside from the details of the contract, one has to consider the cast and crew and the directer... those individuals you will spend HOURS with, let alone relying on the writers and what they are bringing to the table. How would all the above dynamics affect your future endeavors? So Curtis, stage work might not "always" be there for her on a consistent basis ( as you believe, and I don't know why not?) but I am leaning toward the thoughts behind "love the one you're with and the one who loves you back". And, I believe it's a very slippery slope to let others define what makes you happy. As SKEE said: "Stop trying to pimp her talent"

  • Curtis | June 11, 2012 11:10 AM

    Clearly she wants to be on TV and in movies. She's already done both, and it's silly to think that she would turn down an opportunity if one presented itself. As the post says, it's not like the stage work is always going to be there for her consistently.

  • Akimbo | June 11, 2012 10:39 AMReply

    Love her, but Audra is great onstage, not as compelling onscreen. It's really her singing that catapults her; when she's just speaking dialogue, her acting is very dry & matter-of-fact, but when she sings, she's a lot more charismatic. She needs Smash or Chicago-type vehicles. Very happy for her.

  • jenny lansing | June 11, 2012 1:50 PM

    I think Audra is wonderful in all vehicles. She would be great as a regular on a GLEE-type show or in a dramatic or comedic tv role. She should also be cast in movies. In "real" life black women have been Secretary of State, Surgeon General, First Lady, Miss Universe, Winners on Reality Shows ( like So You Think You Can Dance, and Britain's X-Factor), Astronauts, Nobel Prize Winning writers, Homemakers, Professors, teachers, nurses, and Hit TV show creators. About time Hollywood reflected more of that!

  • Adam Scott Thompson | June 11, 2012 10:00 AMReply

    Don't know that every stage talent should jump to film -- or vice-versa.

  • renee | June 11, 2012 9:51 PM

    true but shes got it,,
    and can do anything
    shes one great singer..and actress....

  • Laura | June 11, 2012 10:36 AM

    I agree.

  • John | June 11, 2012 9:52 AMReply

    Audra is a great singer and actress. She deserves the attention. Love her!

  • Jai | June 11, 2012 11:15 AM

    I agree. Congrats to her!!!

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