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Apr 21, 2015

Audra McDonald brings Broadway to the Peace Center

April 21, 2015

Paul Hyde, [email protected] 1:44 p.m. EDT April 14, 2015

Audra McDonald has not been singing "Summertime" during her nationwide tour.

But maybe — just maybe — the Broadway star will offer the classic song from Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" at her concert in Greenville.

South Carolina audiences always seem to enjoy the sultry "Summertime" since "Porgy" is set in Charleston.

"We'll probably do it just because we know it's a favorite for the community," said McDonald, speaking by phone from her home in New York.

"I love singing that song as well," she added. "It's easy to love a classic like that."

McDonald, winner of an unprecedented six Tony Awards, returns to the Peace Center with her jazz trio on Thursday, April 23.

Her program, featuring the same musicians who accompanied her when she last visited Greenville in 2011, will include Broadway standards by Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim, and the "Cabaret" team of Kander and Ebb.

"We'll be doing all those wonderful songs from the Great American Musical Theater Songbook," McDonald said. "We've got some songs written as long ago as 1922 and some songs written as recently as 2013. We're going to do some very new material that I'll also perform at my Carnegie Hall concert, which is a week later."

As entertainers go, McDonald is a force of nature, equally at home on Broadway and opera stages as she is in roles on film and television.

She returns to Broadway next March in a show called "Shuffle Along, Or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed."

Next year, for the big screen, she'll join Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans and Josh Gad in the live-action remake of the Disney animated classic "Beauty and the Beast."

McDonald is currently on a 60-city tour that has carried her throughout the U.S. and as far as Spain and Australia.

Speaking to The Greenville News on a rare day off, McDonald said she enjoys all fields of show business — film, TV, theater, concert performances — and each comes with its own high pressures.

"In a Broadway show, you're sharing the responsibility with the entire cast but in a concert it's just me on stage for an hour and 45 minutes, so there's no one to hand off the work to," McDonald said, with a laugh. "The travel is hard, too. Last week, I think I was on nine airplanes in seven days. But it's great seeing the different audiences and cities all over the country and the world. That's very fulfilling."

In 2014, McDonald made Broadway history and became the Tony Awards' most decorated performer when she won her sixth award for her portrayal of Billie Holiday in "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill." The show was filmed for a HBO TV special next year.

She also won Tonys for "Carousel," "Master Class," "'Ragtime," "A Raisin in the Sun" and "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess."

Other recent credits include her 2013 critically acclaimed performance as the Mother Abbess in NBC's live telecast of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The Sound of Music" opposite Carrie Underwood as Maria — a show that was watched by an estimated 18.5 million viewers. From 2007 to 2011, McDonald played Dr. Naomi Bennett on the hit ABC medical drama, "Private Practice."

McDonald's Peace Center performance will feature three musicians she's worked with for the past six years: Andy Einhorn (music director and piano), Mark Vanderpoel (bass) and Gene Lewin (drums).

"When you get great musicians like that, people you travel well with, you don't want to rock the boat with that in any way," McDonald said. "It's a long, hard thing to do a tour, so the people you work with not only have to be talented, but you've got to like each other, too. I'm lucky that I've got both. As long as they'll take me, I'll keep them on the road with me because I just love 'em."

For the latest in local arts news and reviews, follow Paul Hyde on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.