Audra McDonald is known for her artistic bravery.
The six-time Tony Award winner has tackled everything from Shakespeare to “Ragtime” to “Raisin in the Sun” to the “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff, “Private Practice,” to playing an enchanted wardrobe in the live-action “Beauty and the Beast” movie. However wide-ranging those roles are, as McDonald works on her current North American tour, she says her set list is narrowing a bit, as she takes a short break from some songs, following the birth of her now 7-month-old daughter, Sally James.
“I tried to sing ‘Your Daddy’s Son’ [from “Ragtime”] at a recent concert in London and I hadn’t sung it in 20 years,” says McDonald, calling while she holds Sally James in her arms. “I barely made it through emotionally. . . . There are songs that I might avoid for a little bit until she’s a little bit older and more of the hormones have left my body. Some of them are really difficult to sing when I’ve got such tangible research in my arms.”
McDonald says she will pull material from the American musical theater songbook reaching back to the ’20s when she performs at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Saturday, May 27, her final concert before heading to London, where she’ll make her West End debut reprising her Tony-winning role as Billie Holiday in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.”
“It is a very heavy show. She was a complicated soul. When she was high, there was nobody higher, both literally and figuratively,” McDonald says. “She was a real joy. When she was low, there was no one lower. It’s a heavy role to wear eight times a week. I have to leave Billie at the theater. . . . I think doing it with a baby will be a completely different experience.”
She’s also not used to revisiting a character. “This is the first time I’ve ever done a role, stepped away from it and then come back to it, so I’m curious to see what’s the same and what’s different,” she says. “It’s something that was set before I was pregnant, but the universe had other plans. This little peanut in my arms had other plans. It’s all for the best. I couldn’t be happier. This will be a fun family adventure.”
And McDonald likes adventures and the challenges that come with them. In a way, she started the trend of people freaking out when pregnant women perform well at high-profile events with her showstopping performance from “Shuffle Along” at last year’s Tonys. The social-media praise that followed arrived again with Beyoncé’s Grammy performance and when people learned Serena Williams was pregnant when she won the Australian Open this year.
McDonald laughs at the idea of starting this trend, adding that pregnancies are different for every woman and that her recent pregnancy was different from when she was pregnant with her 16-year-old daughter, Zoe.
“Pregnancy can be wonderful or very taxing,” says McDonald, 46. “That said, women are strong. It was not easy for me doing ‘Shuffle Along’ and being pregnant and as old as I was — slash am. But then I think about people, gosh, I think about Syrian refugees trying to find a safe place to be and a lot of those women were pregnant and running at the same time. Then I really think, women are strong.”
WHO Audra McDonald
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Saturday, May 27, Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, 76 Main St.
INFO $100-$175; 631-288-1500, whbpac.org