Audra McDonald signs on for “Private Practice”

Don’t you hate it when your little-known special favorite undiscovered talent hits the big time? I mean, there you are, nurturing your fandom even when nobody else cares, remaining true to the cause even when all hope is lost — and then, BAM, your personal project gets a huge break and everybody starts shouting her name and you look like just another member of the unwashed masses.

I think that’s about to happen to me with Audra McDonald. The Broadway star, heretofore reserved for me and Rosie O’Donnell and my girlfriend (no, we’re not all the same person) and theater aficionados, has landed a role that will make her a household name. McDonald will play the BFF of Dr. Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh) in the Grey’s Anatomy spin-off Private Practice.

In the spin-off pilot — technically a May episode of Grey’s — the character of Dr. Naomi Bennett was played by Merrin Dungey, aka Francie on Alias. According to the L.A. Times, "No reason was given for the change in direction" from Dungey to McDonald. It seems to have something to do with "fine tuning," which is obviously fine for McDonald and less than fine for Dungey. Francie doesn’t like coffee ice cream or fine tuning!

But anyway, yeah, OK: Audra deserves this. And then some. But unless Dr. Bennett is going to be a singing fertility specialist who breaks into an aria every time someone gets pregnant, we’re going to be deprived of McDonald’s true talent. She won three Tony Awards before the age of 30, and that’s incredible.

For me, the upshot of this news is twofold: (1) I will now be tuning in for a show I hadn’t really intended to watch, and (2) The next time I see Audra on the sidewalk after a Barbra Streisand show (like I did last October, in a totally dorky oh-my-god-I-can’t-speak-she’s-so-gorgeous way — and to make matters better, she was leaving with Diana Krall, who was perfectly civil to my girlfriend when she asked whether they had been backstage), it will be as part of a mob rather than as part of a small but dedicated fan base. Somehow I’ll soldier on.

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