Audra McDonald has six Tony Awards and a voice that will make you believe in angels. That combination puts her in a place where she can be choosy when selecting her next job.
But, when she got a call about a job a couple of years ago she accepted without hesitation.
“I said yes the minute that Disney called because you say yes when Disney calls. If they told me that you were gonna sell churros in the park, I’d be like, yeah, I’m there,” says McDonald, who grew up in Fresno, California. “Also, it’s Disney and I have kids.”
The call was for the live-action version of Beauty And The Beast. McDonald plays Madame Garderobe, the opera singer-turned-furniture piece. She appears both in human form and then is the voice for the animated wardrobe.
McDonald’s no stranger to the recording studio, but she’s never done voice-over work.
“It could have been hard but that incredible team, headed by (director) Bill Condon, was with me every step of the way. Bill makes you feel so comfortable and is so collaborative, we just played in the recording studio,” McDonald says. “It just felt like make believe.”
McDonald’s long career on the stage was a big help in her doing the voice work.
Each time she steps in front of the audience, she must imagine the area as a big world without a crowd of people watching.
Voice recording was also easier than stage work because McDonald didn’t have to worry about what to do with her hands or if her body language was getting across the emotions of a scene.
She was freed from having to worry about her body. McDonald laughs and says that’s particularly true when you are playing a wardrobe.
McDonald’s introduction to Beauty And The Beast came through the 1991 animated film. She was on tour with The Secret Garden when a friend suggested they see it.
“I was a little sceptical because it was a cartoon,” McDonald says. “But, I walked out in tears. I was so moved by it. I was also excited because they had used Broadway voices and the movie was a real homage to musical theatre up there on the big screen with animation the likes we had not seen before.”
The Oscar-winning music is another reason McDonald loves being part of the movie. McDonald has performed music by some of the top composers. She’s not certain exactly what it is about the music of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken that has made their work so memorable.
“I think resonate is the right word,” McDonald says. “I don’t know what it is but there is something about the chemistry between those two that resonates.”
McDonald was excited to work with Emma Watson, who plays Belle, because the actor has been such an inspiration to young women. McDonald also loved getting to work with Emma Thompson, the film’s Mrs Potts, again. They have worked together on several projects, from the movie Wit to a recent performance of Sweeney Todd with the New York Philharmonic.
Beauty And The Beast was also a reunion of McDonald and Kevin Kline, who plays Belle’s father. They played husband and wife in the feature film Ricki And The Flash. – The Fresno Bee/Tribune News Service/Rick Bentley