BY KALISHA MENDONSA
The beauty of theatre and live performance is the ability to transport the audience to an entirely different realm or even, a specific place in time.
Talented performer Alison MacDonald, accompanied by jazz musician Morgan McKee on keys, will aim to do just that with a tribute performance titled ‘The Legends of Carnegie Hall’.
The duo will be performing hits first made famous by the signature voices of Patsy Cline, Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Bette Midler, Carole King and Ella Fitzgerald.
Shows will run April 28th and 29th, beginning at 7:30 p.m., in the Nickle Studio of Red Deer’s Memorial Centre. Tickets are $20.
“These are women who are strong and who love theatre and music and the arts. I think all of them, in some way, were leaders of their time for women in the music and theatre industries,” MacDonald said.
“They are amazing solo artists, and when they sing you can hear the emotion and the parts of their life that are coming out through song.”
MacDonald’s passion for the music of the evening stems from a life-long adoration of performance, theatre and the power of song.
From beginning to end, ‘Legends of Carnegie Hall’ has been carefully orchestrated to “transport audiences away from the hum-drum of everyday life”, as MacDonald said.
Throughout the set, MacDonald will share some stories from the lives of the six iconic women, whose music is the heart and soul that inspired this event.
She said it is not an impersonation show, but rather, a heartfelt tribute to some of the women who have performed at Carnegie Hall, and what those performances may have meant to the artists.
“At first, I was picking songs that I really enjoyed personally, and that I thought audiences would enjoy. As you start delving into the lives of these women, and each performance or performances at Carnegie Hall, you realize more about what they were going through,” MacDonald said.
“For example, Judy Garland’s performance was a big come-back for her after battling with illness and drugs.”
Judy Garland has a played a particularly influential role in MacDonald’s developed style of performance, whose own voice has been likened to the theatre icon.
“I’ve been doing theatre for almost 20 years now, so when I was thinking of putting a show together, I thought about the people who have inspired me,” she said.
“Judy Garland has always been someone who, right from Wizard of Oz, cut to the core of my heart. I thought about her, and I’ve played Patsy Cline before at a couple of theatre companies – these are the women who inspire me.”
MacDonald continued, “I love how the craft and the art and the music really fueled these women, and was a huge part of their lives.”
She said her inspiration for the theme of the evening has several layers.
“There’s the combination of what these women did in their lives, and some of the songs that I’ve performed in previous shows, or that have affected me greatly at different times of my life,” MacDonald said.
“There are a few of those insights into these great women, but also insight as to how this music effects me, too.”
Both McKee and MacDonald have roots right here in Central Alberta and will play to a small crowd in Red Deer. MacDonald said the weekend carries special significance as a sort of homecoming for her.
She said she considered hosting the event in Edmonton, but wanted to return to where her love of the arts truly began. She added happily that friends, family and even old musical instructors will be there to witness the evening.
“Being able to share this with people who were really there at the beginning of my love is really quite wonderful. It’s nice being home physically in Alberta, but being on stage here feels like home, too,” she said.
MacDonald grew up in Lacombe, where she first discovered a love of performance through theatre at her local junior high school.
She said she had found a way to express herself, and loved the camaraderie of theatre.
From there, she grew into that love even more and headed Red Deer College to begin a career in the arts. From there, she moved to Victoria to study at the Canadian College of the Performing Arts, and eventually went east to Toronto.
Now, MacDonald is looking forward to the inaugural ‘Legends of Carnegie Hall’ – which she hopes could become more than a one-weekend show.
“Something that is great about the structure of the evening is that I feel the show style could have more lives than just this one engagement,” MacDonald said.
“It would be great to perform this weekend, but also be able to explore other performers and pick different songs. If the show does live on, it won’t always be the same.”
The evening will have some iconic songs that audience members will recognize, but MacDonald has also worked to pull some less-known music as well, to broaden the experience for listeners.
“Liza Minnelli has some really fantastic musical theatre songs that I don’t think are as mainstream. They are, however, really great stories to tell and I think audiences will really enjoy them.”
MacDonald said she performed as Patsy Cline last year at a couple of theatre companies, and that the opportunity to play such a vivid musical figure was inspiring.
“It was amazing to get to portray this woman. It was directed to and addressed to the audience, and some people really believed that they were seeing Patsy Cline. Afterwards, I would go and chat with members of the audience, and they said it brought them back to a time in their life that they hadn’t really remembered recently,” she said.
MacDonald is hoping the upcoming performance at the Nickel Studio will offer a similar experience, bringing audiences deep within the heart of the artists’ intentions.