Audra McDonald Has Record-Breaking Night at TonysBy: Brian Powell - June 9, 2014
When Audra McDonald took home the award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical in 2012 for The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, she tied Julie Harris and Angela Lansbury for most Tony awards of all time, and she was one win shy of achieving the grand slam of Tonys. As most people expected, it did not take McDonald long to surpass either of those two milestones.
In a night which celebrated newcomers and classics alike, McDonald took home the award for Best Leading Actress in a Play for her portrayal of Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill. The play takes place in a bar in Philadelphia in 1959, just four months before Billie Holiday would die after a lifetime of heavy drinking and drug abuse. McDonald belts out classic Holiday tunes and intersperses the numbers with stories of Holiday’s life, choosing to not skip over the darker details.
With her win, McDonald surpasses both Lansbury and Harris as the person to have won the most competitive Tony awards in a lifetime. (Harris has six awards, one being a non-competitive lifetime achievement award.) McDonald won her first award in 1994 for Featured Actress in a Musical in Carousel. Two years later, McDonald won the award for Featured Actress in a Play for her performance in Master Class. McDonald would subsequently win two more awards for Featured Actress in a Play thanks to her roles in Ragtime and A Raisin in the Sun. Her 2014 award for Best Actress in a Play means that McDonald has now won an award in every possible acting category, completing the grand slam of the Tonys.
“I want to thank my Mum and Dad up in heaven for disobeying the doctor’s orders and not medicating their hyperactive girl and finding out what she was interested in and pushing her into the theatre,” McDonald stated in her acceptance speech, shortly before paying homage to “all the shoulders of the strong and brave and courageous women that I’m standing on” – including such women as Lena Horne, Maya Angelou, Diahann Carroll, Ruby Dee, and Billie Holiday.
While McDonald has already set the mark for others to aspire to for generations to come, her career is far from over. McDonald is only 43 years old, and her career only continues to improve.
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