Mailbag: Oh, yes, Audra McDonald can sing

By Rich Heldenfels
Beacon Journal popular culture writer

Singer and actress Audra McDonald attends the 2013 Matrix New York Women in Communications Awards at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in April 2013 in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

You have questions. I try to have answers — the new, 2014 models!

Q: Please tell me where I have seen the African-American actress who played the Mother Superior in the live broadcast of “The Sound of Music.” She had a beautiful voice.

A: That was Audra McDonald, and you may have seen her lots of places.

In addition to being in The Sound of Music with Carrie Underwood, December found her on Christmas in Rockefeller Center and in the documentary Six by Sondheim. According to her website, classical music publication Musical America named her its musician of the year. She also has two Grammys and five Tonys, the latter for performances in productions of Carousel, Master Class, Ragtime, A Raisin in the Sun and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. Her most extended TV role was as a regular on the ABC series Private Practice; her movie credits include Rampart with Woody Harrelson.

Q: When the regular season of “Devious Maids” on Lifetime ended this past September, I saw one TV ad about its return scheduled for a Sunday in October. Apparently, this never happened. Has “Devious Maids” been canceled? I thought it was a really great mix of humor and suspense with great actors.

A: The series has been renewed for a second season. Look for it in the spring.

Q: Is Will Estes of “Blue Bloods” any relation to Rob Estes of “90210”?

A: No, although you are not the only one to ask that question. “People ask, yeah,” Will Estes told ET Online. “I met Rob once briefly. I don’t know him, but I consider [the idea that they’re related] a compliment.”

And speaking of Blue Bloods, where Will plays Jamie Reagan

Q: Jamie’s new partner on “Blue Bloods” looks so familiar. On what other shows has she appeared?

A: That’s Vanessa Ray playing Officer Janko on the CBS crime drama. She has played CeCe Drake on Pretty Little Liars, had a recurring role on Suits, and has been on As the World Turns and the third season of Damages, among other credits.

Q: James Read was George Hazard in the “North and South” TV miniseries in the mid- to late 1980s. Has he done any movies or television roles since then?

A: Read first came to wider notice as Murphy Michaels in the first season of Remington Steele, then became even bigger when he played Hazard in the first North and South miniseries in 1985; he played the main member of a northern family intersecting with a southern family before and during the Civil War. Patrick Swayze was Read’s opposite number in the southern clan. While working on that program, Read also met actress Wendy Kilbourne, and they later married. Read went on to appear in two North and South sequels in 1986 and 1994 as well as many other TV performances, including guest roles on Castle, CSI:NY and other programs, recurring appearances on American Dreams and Persons Unknown and a regular role on Wildfire.

Do you have a question or comment for the mailbag? Write to the Akron Beacon Journal, 44 E. Exchange St., Akron, OH 44309 or Please mark the email or envelope with “mailbag.” Letters may be edited for publication. Please do not phone in questions. Individual replies cannot be guaranteed.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and, including the HeldenFiles Online, He is also on Facebook and Twitter.

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