McDonald first achieved critical acclaim with her role in the 1994 revival of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's Carousel. Credited as Audra Ann McDonald in the Playbill, she played Carrie Pipperidge opposite Michael Hayden as Billy Bigelow and Sally Murphy as Julie Jordan.
Directed by Nicholas Hytner, the musical opened at the Vivian Beaumont Theater March 24, 1994, to rave reviews. The New York Times' David Richards called it "the freshest, most innovative musical on Broadway" and dubbed McDonald the "real find of this production" with her "vigorous voice and ready sense of comedy."
McDonald was awarded the 1994 Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance, marking her first Tony win.
The play opened Nov. 5, 1995, at the John Golden Theatre, where it ran for 598 performances. Variety's Jeremy Gerard praised the "magnificent production" and remarked that Caldwell's star power was "perfectly matched" by the supporting cast, especially McDonald.
The production won all three of its Tony Award nominations: Best Play, Best Actress in a Play for Caldwell and Best Featured Actress in a Play for McDonald.
Three years later McDonald appeared in the original Broadway run of Ragtime. The musical opened Jan. 18, 1998, as the inaugural production of the newly opened Ford Center for the Performing Arts (now the Lyric Theatre). She played Sarah in a cast that included Brian Stokes Mitchell, Marin Mazzie, Peter Friedman and Mark Jacoby.
The musical received a mixed review from the New York Times' Ben Brantley, who claimed the production was "utterly resistible" but praised McDonald's performance. "Ms. McDonald finds more humanity than would have seemed possible in her sketchbook part," he wrote, "and, as always, she sings gloriously."
After starring roles in Marie Christine and 110 in the Shade and a fourth Tony win for her role in A Raisin in the Sun, McDonald played Bess in the 2012 revival of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess. The cast also starred Norm Lewis as Porgy and David Alan Grier as Sporting Life.
The show opened Jan. 12, 2012, at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. Though it received mixed reviews, McDonald's performance was widely praised by critics. The New York Times' Ben Brantley wrote: "It's hard to imagine any hurricane matching the tempest that is the extraordinary Audra McDonald’s Bess at the moment she is reunited with her former lover, Crown, played by Phillip Boykin."
The production received the 2012 Tony for Best Revival of a Musical, and McDonald won for Best Actress in a Musical. It closed Sept. 23, 2012, after 28 previews and 293 performances, making it the longest-running production of Porgy and Bess to play on Broadway.
McDonald is currently appearing in Lanie Robertson's Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill. In it she portrays legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday, a role that has earned her accolades including the 2014 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play.
The production is scheduled to run through Aug. 31 at Circle in the Square.