Audra McDonald, A Broadway Star Gone Roaming, Comes Home After extended jaunts in TV and on the road, McDonald's first new album in seven years marks a return to her roots in musical theater.
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Audra McDonald, A Broadway Star Gone Roaming, Comes Home

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Audra McDonald, A Broadway Star Gone Roaming, Comes Home

Audra McDonald, A Broadway Star Gone Roaming, Comes Home

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And it's been seven years since five-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald recorded a new CD. Her latest album, "Go Back Home," is just that, a return to her roots in musical theater. And she tells our man Jeff Lunden, all of the songs on this album are deeply personal.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: Between her last CD and her new one, Audra McDonald has been busy. She spent several years in Hollywood, filming the television series "Private Practice." She's gotten divorced and remarried; absorbed the shock of losing her father in a fatal plane crash; and watched her daughter, Zoe, grow up from a kindergartener to a middle-schooler.

Last year, she returned to New York, starred in "Porgy and Bess," and won a fifth Tony Award. And all the ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies, are reflected on her new album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GO BACK HOME")

LUNDEN: The first song on the recording - and its title, "Go Back Home" - pretty much states the theme.

: "Go Back Home," for me, resonated with just having been away for the past five years and not only coming back to New York, but home, which is my daughter; home, which is the theater; home, back to love - and all that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GO BACK HOME")

LUNDEN: Like many of her previous albums, McDonald has found a mixture of songs from Broadway legends - "Go Back Home" was written by Kander and Ebb - to a younger generation of songwriters, including Adam Guettel, the Tony winner for "The Light in the Piazza," whose "Migratory V" is featured on the album. McDonald dedicates that song to her late father, who was a pilot.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MIGRATORY V")

ADAM GWON: Her first album, "Way Back To Paradise," was kind of the thing that made me want to be a composer.

LUNDEN: Songwriter Adam Gwon is part of the next generation of composers that McDonald features on her album. He first encountered her - and the young songwriters she has championed - when he was in college, studying to be a performer, and picked up her 1998 debut album.

GWON: First, it made me realize that oh, people like, write musical theater. (Laughing) And also, people write songs that can do these exciting things. And so for that reason alone, having my song on this album is like, mind-blowing, really. (Laughing)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'LL BE HERE")

LUNDEN: Gwon's song "I'll Be Here" comes from his off-Broadway show, "Ordinary Days." In it, a woman tells the story of her past relationship, to her current boyfriend. And the climax occurs when she recounts what happened to them on 9/11.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'LL BE HERE")

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'LL BE HERE")

LUNDEN: While Audra McDonald has a lot of vocal power, she chooses to use it sparingly. For her, it's all about something deeper.

: I think there's nothing wrong with someone going out in a concert and just like, I'm gonna just thrill you and give you chills, and all this stuff. That's a wonderful thing, too. But for who I am as an artist, I think - for me, I'm most fulfilled when I feel like there's been a communion; when there's been something shared, something learned, something received - you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY")

LUNDEN: McDonald's album ends with an old song by Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, called "Make Someone Happy."

: It's a mantra for me, you know. At the end of the day, what's most important, you know? Do I want to be in some fancy dress - you know, with a bunch of people that I don't know, and hair and makeup, you know, and blah, blah, blah; or do I want to be at home with my family, all on the couch with the farting dogs, just - you know, playing a game of Sorry, or playing Yahtzee? I'll take B, every time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY")

LUNDEN: Audra McDonald's new album, "Go Back Home," will be released on Tuesday. On Friday, she hosts her own "Live From Lincoln Center" performance on PBS, featuring songs from the album.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY")

SIMON: Can you hear the dog? This WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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