McDonald swaps scrubs for symphony

Surrounded by the bustle of actors, technicians and a makeup artist touching up her look, Audra McDonald is an oasis of calm and focus during a break from shooting the medical drama “Private Practice.”

She’s ready to wrap the season and move on to her next projects, which include a concert Monday at Davies Symphony Hall.

Though born in Berlin by the happenstance of her father’s military career, McDonald is an as all-American as you can get. At least that’s what she thought until she applied for her first passport as an adult.

“I was planning to go to Italy and needed to renew my childhood passport and I was sent this letter saying that I was not a U.S. citizen. There was some law enacted in the early 1970s and because my birth had never been registered or recorded here I found out at age 20 that I was not officially a citizen of the United States!”

She felt like a woman without a country or, as she puts it “a Valley Girl without a country! How can I be German,” she asks, laughing, “when I’m this black girl from Fresno with — at the time — a thick California accent? Just look at me!”

The two decades since have been full of journeys for McDonald. She’s become one of the top leading ladies of Broadway musicals and has starred in a wide rage of acclaimed television and film projects.

“I’m one of those people who figures out what scares them the most and then goes and does it, being afraid the entire time, of course. Sort of like running through the fire screaming, but being too drawn to the fire to not do it.”

Whenever possible she returns to the concert stage. She holds a special fondness for Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony.

“He’s a doll,” she says. “He taught me a lot. In a way, he sort of started my career in concerts. He saw me in ‘Carousel’ and San Francisco was one of the first orchestras I performed with as a soloist. So I’m indebted to MTT.”

McDonald has no idea what’s in store for the doctors of Oceanside Wellness Center when “Private Practice” begins its fourth season this fall. “Fans ask us what’s going to happen next and the truth is we don’t know. We get our information when we have actual lines to learn, and not a moment before!”

Audra McDonald

Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Monday
Tickets: $15 to $105
Contact: (415) 864-6000,

artsAudra McDonaldClassical Music & OperaentertainmentSan Francisco Symphony

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