At Juilliard, living in a seedy hotel on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, [Audra] McDonald experienced some of the most difficult years of her life.
She felt constrained by her classical operatic training, which involved rigorous courses in musical theory, ear training, and diction.
Depressed and despairing, she attempted suicide at 20 years old.
“[That was] the winter of ’91,” she told the Washington Post. “All my life I’d known exactly what I wanted to do, and all of a sudden I felt I was spiraling out of control.”
McDonald spent a month in a psychiatric hospital, where she received the help she needed.
In retrospect, she is grateful for her challenging years at Juilliard, which prepared her to sing the rigorous arias and scores that later captured Broadway audiences.
McDonald was not long in reaching her goals. Upon graduating in 1993, she landed a role in The Secret Garden, a touring musical.
She also auditioned for the Broadway revival Carousel, and despite a fainting episode during her audition, was cast as Carrie Pepperidge—a role traditionally given to a white actress.
“I have been very lucky Nicholas Hytner [director of CarouseL ] had the guts to cast me in a typically white role,” McDonald told the Black Collegian.
“Because this was my first major role, people were first introduced to me in an atypical way.”
The role earned McDonald her first Tony Award for Best Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical.