Audra McDonald returns with new, personal CD

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NEW YORK (AP) — If either her husband or daughter is calling, Audra McDonald knows without looking at her phone.

That's because the five-time Tony Award winner has programed the ring tone for both to be The Carpenters' hit version of "(They Long to Be) Close to You."

"It's cute, right?" the 42-year-old actress-singer asks.

It is indeed.

For more revealing things about McDonald look no further than her new CD and televised concert. Both pull back the curtain on one of the most decorated women on Broadway.

The 12-song disc called "Go Back Home" includes classics like Stephen Sondheim's "The Glamorous Life," Richard Rodgers-Oscar Hammerstein II's "Edelweiss" and "First You Dream," from the John Kander and Fred Ebb show "Steel Pier."

It also highlights younger composers such as Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler ("Baltimore"), Adam Gwon ("I'll Be Here") and two songs by Michael John LaChiusa ("Virtue" and "Married Love").

The CD's title — taken from the stunning Kander and Ebb song from "The Scottsboro Boys" musical — is a hint that this is McDonald's most personal album to date.

Since her last record — "Build a Bridge" in 2006 — McDonald lost her father in a plane crash, divorced and remarried, spent four seasons on TV's "Private Practice" and won her fifth Tony Award for "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess."

All those events have influenced her choice of songs. "If you were to write a musical about my life over the past seven years, this would be the soundtrack," she says.

The song "First You Dream" makes her think of her 12-year-old daughter Zoe, "Edelweiss" of her late father and "Make Someone Happy" of her husband, fellow performer Will Swenson. The CD ends on that optimistic note. "That's what I've come to and where I am now," she says.

McDonald, who is host of "Live From Lincoln Center," has a line of concert dates until Christmas, has shot a pilot for CBS with Hope Davis and Sam Neill, and has three theater projects percolating. On Friday, her "Audra McDonald in Concert: Go Back Home" concert special airs on PBS.

The Associated Press recently sat down with the singer and longtime activist for marriage equality to find out about the new album — out Tuesday — and why she won't be listening to it.

AP: Why so long between albums?

McDonald: Life happened. And I wasn't quite ready to say anything. I was like, 'I don't want to force it. I don't want to make an album simply to make an album. I need to have something to say.'

AP: Is there a story behind "Edelweiss"?

McDonald: That's the first song I ever auditioned for anything with. I was 9 years old and my dad played it on the piano for me during my audition. It was for a dinner theater troupe in Fresno, Calif. I got in, and that started me on my theater journey. That song has always had this huge influence.

AP: Has your voice changed in these seven years?

McDonald: I think I understand my voice more than I did seven years ago. I'm much more comfortable with what my voice is than I was seven years ago. I'm not so anxious to sound like someone else. And that's always been a goal of mine: be comfortable with your own voice, your own sound.

AP: You have five Tonys. Do you hope for a sixth?

McDonald: It's still not even fathomable to me that I have one, let alone five. It does not compute. In my life, it really doesn't. Last night, I was walking upstairs after having done three loads of laundry. I came upstairs and turned a corner to another pile of laundry. There's just so much laundry in my life! Someone with five Tonys shouldn't have this much laundry! So it doesn't compute. My life is still my life.

AP: Are you surprised by how fast Americans have come around to embracing the concept of gay marriage?

McDonald: It's like I describe my labor. I was in preterm labor for three months. So when people ask how long I was in labor, I say 'Three months and six hours.' It was the world's longest labor, but when I actually went in to deliver, it happened like that. That's what this feels like — it's been this battle that's been going on for a long time. And then, all of a sudden, we're in the last six hours.

AP: Lots of people will hear this, but you won't be one of them, right?

McDonald: I can't. I can give notes during the mixing process and then after that I have to step away. I have people that I trust listen to it but I won't be able to listen to the album for years. I get too close to it. When they sent me the final cut, if I listened to it at that point I would say, 'Throw the whole thing into the trash. Let's start over.'

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Online:

http://www.nonesuch.com/store/audra-mcdonald

http://audramcdonald.net/

http://www.pbs.org/

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Follow Mark Kennedy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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