Performing in Salt Lake City isn’t exactly like a visit to her hometown for Audra McDonald, but it’s close. Sort of like visiting her hometown-in-law.
“That’s exactly what it is!” McDonald said with a laugh. “My hometown-in-law!”
McDonald’s husband of 5½ years, Will Swenson, was born in Provo, attended Brigham Young University and is familiar to Utahns for movies like “Singles Ward” and “Sons of Provo.” He has starred in a variety of Broadway and off-Broadway productions, including the 2007 revival of “110 in the Shade,” during which he met McDonald.
Her two-night gig with the Utah Symphony — Friday and Saturday — is part of her national tour, but maybe a bit of a special stop.
“I felt a very warm welcome when I performed there years ago, before I met Will,” McDonald said. “And now it is like I’m going home to perform.”
She’s expecting this stop just might be a little more complicated than most because she’ll be performing in the evening and spending her days visiting family and friends.
“My days will be busy,′ McDonald said. “I think my time off will be when I’m onstage.”
If you’ve ever seen her perform, two things immediately stand out. First, her incredible voice, which Stephen Sondheim told The New York Times “is one of the glories of the American theater.”
And, second, that McDonald is comfortable, funny and charming onstage. She’s chatty and personable — her goal is to make the audience in Abravanel Hall feel as if they’re gathered in her living room.
The program will include “Summertime” from “Porgy and Bess,” “Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Glamorous Life” from “A Little Night Music,” “I Could Have Danced All Night” from “My Fair Lady” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” from “The Sound of Music.” (McDonald was arguably the best thing about NBC’s “The Sound of Music Live!” in 2013 with her performance as the Mother Abbess.)
The irony is that, to millions of Americans, McDonald is perhaps best known for her four-year run (2007-11) as Dr. Naomi Bennett on the “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff “Private Practice” — a nonsinging role that she took because she was “afraid of the camera” and “just wanted to not be a wreck in front of the camera.”
That show got her recognized constantly and chased by fans in airports. “And that was something I had never experienced before in all of my years of being on Broadway,” she said.
“It’s funny,” she continued. “When I left ’Private Practice’ and I came back to doing musicals … I heard people saying, ‘Wow, Audra can sing! I didn’t even know.’ That always makes me laugh.”
McDonald won four Tonys (two for musicals) before she joined the cast of “Private Practice”; she’s won two more (one for a musical) since she left that show after Season 4. That’s in addition to an Emmy, two Grammys, five Outer Critics Circle Awards, five Drama Desk Awards … just to name a few.
“I first saw Audra McDonald perform in ‘Carousel’ in 1994, and I knew instantly that she was an extraordinarily gifted performer and would have an amazing career,” said PBS president Paula Kerger.
McDonald is, unquestionably, one of the reigning queens of Broadway. But, course, not everyone can travel to see theater in New York. Which is one of the reasons she’s performed on and/or hosted shows like “Great Performances” and “Live from Lincoln Center” on PBS — to “reach the masses.”
And she’s back on a weekly TV series. McDonald joined the cast of “The Good Fight,” which streams on CBS All Access. She jumped at the chance because she’s such a fan of series star Christine Baranski (a two-time Tony winner). Plus, it’s 10 episodes per season, not the 22 or 23 that “Private Practice” produced.
“And it’s something that shoots in New York,” McDonald said, which made it a lot easier than “Private Practice,” which shot in Los Angeles.
“And as wonderful it was, I was commuting. And it was was really, really hard,” she said. “Knowing that I get to lay my head down in my own bed every night and knowing that I’m not that far away from my children … it’s just a much easier thing.”
McDonald’s schedule is daunting, between television, movies (like “Beauty and the Beast”) and her live performances. But the stage feels like home for her, which is one of the reasons she’s embarked on her current tour.
“Also, having a baby at such a late age — at 46 — there’s enough in the world that can stress you out. I’m wanting to be less stressed out in my professional life,” she said.
(McDonald has a 17-year-old daughter, Zoe, from her first marriage; she and Swenson are the parents 17-month-old Sally.)
“Or maybe it’s because I don’t have the energy anymore,” she added with a laugh.
That seems unlikely. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to believe that anyone who doesn’t have a lot of energy could pull off her schedule.
“No one says that I’ve pulled it off yet,” McDonald said with a laugh. “It just means I’m doing it.”
Audra McDonald with the Utah Symphony
When • Friday and Saturday, March 23 and 24, at 7:30 p.m.
Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple
Tickets • $23-$103 at the box office, 801-533-6683 or usuo.org
Correction: Audra McDonald's set list will not include the "Facebook Song."