By Will Robinson
March 10, 2016 at 01:33 AM EST
Dennis Leupold/ESSENCE

Coinciding with her return to Broadway, Audra McDonald landed another marquee spot — on the cover of April’s edition of Essence.

In an interview for the magazine’s “Careers” issue, McDonald opens up on how following her passion saved her life. She also shines a light on what it’s like to perform in the upcoming musical Shuffle Along, directed by George C. Wolfe.

“I’ve always wanted to work with George, to be in the same room with that kind of genius,” McDonald tells Essence. “This is the first Broadway musical that was written, directed and produced by and starred solely African-Americans. Josephine Baker was in it. So was Paul Robeson. And it was a huge hit. This is a history that’s not known, and I wanted to be a part of making it known…”

Dennis Leupold/ESSENCE


Shuffle Along details the 1920s musical of the same name, in addition to its aftermath. (The full title of the show is Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed.) McDonald plays one of the breakthrough show’s stars, Lottie Gee.

McDonald’s most recent notable role was her turn as singer Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill. For her performance, McDonald won a sixth Tony Award, the most ever for an actor.

“Winning was surreal, a totally out-of-body experience…” she told Essence. “I thought I would suddenly feel different — that I would finally figure out how to organize my underwear drawer. I’m grateful and blown away by it all, but I’m still me. I still have work to do.”

HBO will air a broadcast of Lady Day with McDonald on Saturday, which comes right before Shuffle Along previews begin Tuesday in New York.

Wolfe wrote the book for Shuffle Along, while Savion Glover choreographed the production. It’s the first time Wolfe and Glover have collaborated since 1996’s Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk. It opens April 28 at Music Box Theatre.

Dennis Leupold/ESSENCE


For McDonald’s full interview, head to Essence. The April issue hits newsstands on March 18.