One day, they may have to name an award the Audra, after Audra McDonald, the luminous stage and screen star who joins conductor Osmo Vänskä in concert this weekend to kick off the Minnesota Orchestra's new season.
With her finely honed craft and passion, McDonald is one of the most celebrated performers in Broadway history. Last year, she won her sixth Tony Award — more than any other actor — for playing Billie Holiday in "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill."
In a moving acceptance speech, McDonald blurted out thanks to her mom and her "dad up in heaven for disobeying the doctors and not medicating their hyperactive girl."
She was not speaking out against the pharmaceutical industry.
"I was not making some universal statement — I was speaking solely to my experience," she said ahead of her Minnesota engagement. "I'm not making a statement about medicating kids. For some kids, it's the right thing. For others, it's something else."
For her, that something else was the stage. A self-described "little girl with a pot belly and Afro-puffs who was hyperactive and overdramatic," McDonald was born in Germany — her father was a soldier stationed in Berlin — but she and her younger sister grew up in Fresno, Calif., where her dad became a school principal and her mother a university administrator.
She was always getting into stuff, she recalled, and once nearly set the house on fire.
"I was a handful," she said.
Seeking a creative outlet for her energies, her parents took her to a theater at age 9, and everything seemed to click.
"This was a place to express myself," she said.
"When I found the theater, I found my home."
McDonald would eventually move East after high school to study voice and acting at the storied Juilliard School in New York City.
She won her first Tony 21 years ago, for the musical "Carousel." With her multidimensional skills, she is the only person to win the theater world's highest honor in all four performance categories — as featured and lead actress in plays ("Master Class," "A Raisin in the Sun") and musicals ("Ragtime," "Porgy and Bess").
If she keeps winning, she could dethrone some of the most important figures in the industry — choreographer Bob Fosse and composer Stephen Sondheim, each of whom have eight Tonys.
All of her accomplishments have surpassed her childhood hopes.
"My dream was to be in a Broadway show, whether it was in the ensemble or as an understudy," she said. "I just wanted to be in one Broadway show at some point in my life before I died."
She seems to be in it for the long haul. McDonald, 45, who is the mother of a 14-year-old, Zoe Donovan, paces herself. She rests her voice and keeps her lessons up.
Her Minneapolis program
With the Minnesota Orchestra on Friday and Saturday, she'll be singing standards from the American songbook.
The program includes Lerner and Loewe's "I Could Have Danced All Night" (from "My Fair Lady"), "Moon River" ("Breakfast at Tiffany's") and Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" — which she sang in a showstopping performance on NBC's live broadcast of "The Sound of Music" in 2013.
McDonald said that she enjoys performing in a variety of settings, be it with an orchestra or a trio, or on screen. In recent years she had a regular TV role as a doctor on the prime-time drama "Private Practice." And last winter she filmed "Lady Day" for an HBO movie.
But she likens her love of the stage to her native language.
"I get fulfillment out of all of it, but what language are you most comfortable speaking?" she said. "It's like the first language you learn."