With her win for Best Actress (Play) for her performance as chanteuse Billie Holliday in “Lady Day at Emersons Bar and Grill,” Audra McDonald set two new Tony records. This was her sixth victory, breaking a tie with two titans of the stage — Julie Harris and Angela Lansbury. And she became the first performer to take home Tonys in all four acting categories.
Harris won five Best Actress (Play) prizes: “I Am a Camera” (1952), “The Lark” (1956), “Forty Carats” (1969), “The Last of Mrs. Lincoln” (1973) and “The Belle of Amherst” (1977). And she holds the record for most nominations for a performer with 10 nods.
Lansbury won Best Actress (Musical) four times — “Mame” (1966), “Dear World” (1969), “Gypsy” (1975) and “Sweeney Todd” (1979) — and picked up her fifth award for her featured performance in the play “Blithe Spirit” in 2009.
McDonald had equalled the achievements of those two great ladies of the theater just two years ago, when she won Best Actress (Musical) for the acclaimed revival of the Gershwin opera “Porgy and Bess.” That was her first lead award; she already had a pair of Tonys for her featured turns in the musicals “Carousel” (1994) and “Ragtime” (1998) and another set of bookends for her supporting performances in the plays “Master Class” (1996) and “A Raisin in the Sun” (2004).
However, the categorization of “Lady Day” as a play was not without controversy. After all, Lonette McKee had contended on the musical side at the Drama Desk Awards for the original production back in 1987. This year, the Outer Critics Circle deemed it to be a musical but the Drama Desk re-classified it as a play and the Tonys followed suit.