But tonight Mcdonald will have a new experience, his first opening night on Broadway -- in this case as the male romantic lead in Steel Pier, Bill Kelly.
"The eight weeks of workshop on this production is longer than any rehearsal period I've had," he said. "And there's a sense that this entire family has been created. And now, I get this sense of flight -- that we're about to take off on our own without the protection of [lyricist Fred] Ebb and [composer John] Kander and [choreographer Susan] Stroman and the others."
To bring himself good luck, McDonald said he carries his father's old makeup case, which will be at his fingertips in his dressing room when he prepares for opening night tonight. It's not the makeup, per se, of course: "My makeup is two lines on my eyes and that's it," McDonald said. "It's not about that. It's a symbol really. All the treasures any actor collects over the years, I put in there. It's a box that holds my memories."
His latest memories have been of the changes made in his character during previews. Without giving away too much, there is a supernatural, "mysterious" dimension to Bill Kelly, and the struggle during previews has been "to decide how much information about that to give the audience. How much do we reveal about my reality, my limitations, my powers? It's a delicate balance: how much to withhold to keep the mystery, how much to give to keep you interested."
For McDonald, the opening night of Steel Pier will be the beginning of a new life experience. But he said it will also be the end of a unique one as well.
"My biggest surprise in all this [the development of Steel Pier has been the level of collaboration. It's unlike any film or TV show I've ever worked on. In those areas you're a hired hand to come an fill a slot. You come in, do your gig, and split, and you don't really know what you've done until next year. You're never part of the creation of the event. But Steel Pier has been a beautiful collaborative event. An actor tends to know more about a character than even the writers do. This team listens to what a character's voice can say, which then sparks off an idea: 'What if this happened?' 'Why don't we try that?' It becomes a whole incredible process."
That's why, McDonald said, he feels "bittersweet" about tonight's opening: "It's sweet because the baby is ready to fly and soar on its own; and sad, because the collaboration is over. They'll [Kander, Ebb, Stroman, Thompson, Ellis and the designers] move on to their next project. It feels like you're losing a bit of your family."