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Audra McDonald career timeline: Look back on her Tony-winning roles and more

McDonald's award-winning Broadway career spans more than 30 years and counting.

Gillian Russo
Gillian Russo

Few modern Broadway performers are as well-known and versatile as Audra McDonald. She has won more competitive Tony Awards (six) than any other performer in history, and she is the only actor to win all four major acting categories. And with nine total nominations, McDonald is the rare actor to have won more Tonys than she's lost.

In short, with dozens of acclaimed performances on stage and screen, McDonald has proven herself one of the most celebrated actresses working today. Even those unfamiliar with theatre know her from TV shows like The Good Fight and The Gilded Age, and Broadway fans, of course, know her from shows like Ragtime, Carousel, A Raisin in the Sun, and more.

In fall 2022, McDonald is back on Broadway in Adrienne Kennedy's Ohio State Murders, at the James Earl Jones Theatre from November 11 to February 12. She plays a writer revisiting the darkness she encountered at her alma mater decades before.

To celebrate McDonald's return to the stage, take a look back at the highlights from her three-decade-plus Broadway career.

Get Ohio State Murders tickets now.

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1992: McDonald makes her Broadway debut.

Once McDonald took the stage for the first time, it was no secret that she'd soon become a major star. Her Broadway debut was in the Secret Garden musical in 1992, when she was 22 years old. She played Ayah, the main character's nursemaid.

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1994: McDonald wins her first Tony.

McDonald's second Broadway gig was as Carrie Pipperidge in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel. McDonald earned both her first Tony nomination and win for her performance, marking the first of many accolades in her career to come. She also won her next two nominations, for Master Class and Ragtime.

Fun fact: One of McDonald's Carousel co-stars was a then-unknown Taye Diggs in his Broadway debut. The two later co-starred on screen in Private Practice!

1996: McDonald makes her screen debut.

With a singing voice like hers, it's only natural that McDonald's early screen projects were theatre-adjacent. Her first film appearance was as an opera singer in the 1996 film Seven Servants, and her first TV appearance was three years later, as Grace Farrell in a TV movie version of Annie.

More recently, she's appeared in musical films like Ricki and the Flash as Maureen and the live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast as Mrs. Potts.

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1999: McDonald plays her first lead role on Broadway.

McDonald starred as Marie Christine L'Adrese in Marie Christine, a musical adaptation of the Greek myth of Medea. Michael LaChiusa, who wrote and composed the show, created the title role especially for McDonald.

McDonald received her fourth Tony nomination, for Best Leading Actress in a Musical, for her performance. Heather Headley ultimately won the award, but McDonald received high praise for her singing and acting alike, cementing her leading lady status.

2007: McDonald stars in 110 in the Shade.

McDonald received her sixth Tony nomination for starring as Lizzie Currie in the short-lived musical, though she lost the Best Leading Actress category to Christine Ebersole that year. 110 in the Shade is notable, though, for being the show in which she met her now-husband, Will Swenson! They officially got together a few years later, marrying in 2012.

While McDonald is performing in Ohio State Murders, Swenson is also performing on Broadway as Neil Diamond in A Beautiful Noise.

2008: McDonald wins two Grammy Awards.

By 2008, McDonald already had four Tony Awards under her belt, and it was time to expand her horizons. She hopped to the West Coast for a Los Angeles Opera production of Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, an opera by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. She and her co-stars — one of whom was fellow Broadway vet Patti LuPone — jointly won not one, but two Grammy Awards for the cast recording: Best Classical Album and Best Opera Recording.

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2014: McDonald wins her sixth Tony and makes history.

McDonald's most recent Tony Award win was in 2014, when she starred as Billie Holiday in the play Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill. That was also the win that cemented her as a Broadway record holder. With that win, she had officially won Tonys in all four main acting categories: Best Leading Actress in a Play, Best Leading Actress in a Musical, Best Featured Actress in a Play, and Best Featured Actress in a Musical.

She is the only actress to earn that distinction, and she's even surpassed it. McDonald has two Tonys each for Best Featured Actress in a Play and Best Featured Actress in a Musical.

2015: McDonald wins her first Emmy Award.

McDonald inched closer to EGOT status in 2015, winning the Outstanding Special Class Program Emmy Award alongside her co-stars in Sweeney Todd (Live from Lincoln Center) in 2015. She had been nominated for Emmys three times before, all for performing in filmed adaptations of theatre shows: Wit, A Raisin in the Sun, and Carousel (Live from Lincoln Center).

She followed up her Emmy win with multiple other major honors in the next few years, receiving the National Medal of Arts in 2016 and an induction into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 2017.

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2020-2021: McDonald performs during the pandemic.

Just because live theatre stopped in 2020 doesn't mean McDonald did. She participated in multiple virtual events while theatres were shuttered amid the pandemic. One of these was Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration, a virtual concert featuring Stephen Sondheim's greatest hits. McDonald, Meryl Streep and Christine Baranski's performance of "The Ladies Who Lunch" is a fan-favorite number in the show.

In 2021, McDonald did another virtual performance, starring in a livestreamed reading of Ohio State Murders. Kenny Leon directed the production, one in a series of readings of female-written plays. Looking back, that event was foreshadowing for the play's Broadway premiere!

2022: McDonald stars in Ohio State Murders on Broadway.

McDonald hasn't been away from Broadway for that long; her last appearance was opposite Michael Shannon in Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, which earned McDonald her ninth Tony nomination. But it's always an event when she comes back. In Ohio State Murders, she leads a cast that also includes Tony nominee Bryce Pinkham and Lizan Mitchell.

Just as notable as McDonald's return to Broadway is the play itself. Ohio State Murders marks the Broadway debut of playwright Adrienne Kennedy at 91 years old, after having been an Off-Broadway fixture for decades. What could be better than two American Theater Hall of Fame members — a performing legend and a writing legend — coming together?

Get Ohio State Murders tickets now.

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