Alison MacDonald: “Joseph’s” Friendly Narrator

photo courtesy of Alison MacDonald

Alison MacDonald is a Jessie Award-winning performer, currently playing The Narrator in Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the renowned Chemainus Theatre Festival. This self-described Alberta girl was born in Newfoundland, has lived in the Northwest Territories and BC, and is currently based in Toronto, but is happily spending the summer performing in the little town of Chemainus on Vancouver Island.

A graduate of the Canadian College of Performing Arts, Alison has performed all across Canada in numerous musicals including Les Misérables, The Sound of Music, The Wizard of Oz, A Chorus Line, Little Women and Fiddler on the Roof. Alison’s voice is sparkling clear, and her warm personality is evident on stage.

I met Alison for a delightful chat over coffee on a sunny patio.

Which came first for you, acting or singing?

It was the singing, for sure. That’s what brought me into musical theatre – I was singing all the time as a kid. Then in high school my drama teacher was fantastic, and she got me more into the theatre and acting side of it.

Did you do other creative things did you do when you were growing up?

It was mostly singing, but figure skating as well. My time was spent between singing lessons and figure skating, knowing that I would never really do anything with the skating, it was just that I loved it.

This production of Joseph started June 15…

Yes, and rehearsals started May 21.

And it runs until September 8, so you must get to know all the cast really well.

Before coming here there were people who I knew, so it’s nice to see them again and work with friends. And being here, it’s like a working vacation –like being at camp a little bit, you get to know people a lot more in this kind of theatre environment than you do if you’re working in a city. Here… I’m trapped in Chemainus! I say that happily.

In "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." Photo by George Blumel, courtesy of The Chemainus Theatre

It’s such a fun show, isn’t it – the lyrics are clever.

Yes, they’re quirky. There are different things that pop out… sometimes you’ll hear things a little differently when you really listen and hear the different nuances. It’s nice to have the freedom where you can switch it up a bit.

How do you keep it fresh, performing the same show for two months?

It’s the same, but there are always little nuances that change. Sometimes audiences are so quiet, the fact that they may not react kind of heightens you… or if they’re extra vocal, that also heightens it because you’re aware of what they’re doing. We all have weeks where we’re tired, but once the show gets going, it’s kind of a machine. It is all music, and you’re kind of along for the ride. Once the show’s done, that’s when I realize, “oh, I’m tired!”

I get inspired by people I know who work hard and find creativity in their everyday life. People who are going after their dreams.”

What’s it like working with the kids?

They’re fun! I enjoy working with kids on stage, which is one reason I was excited for this show. There are two choirs, and I think that keeps it fresh too. We’ll come in one day and it’s the blue choir, and their personalities and the cute things they do are different from the red choir. It’s a lot of energy backstage! But it’s great.

Any interesting or funny mishaps on or off stage?

I’ve had clumsy shows, where I tripped walking down the stairs. Usually people barely notice but the worst part for me is keeping it together because I’m thinking “oh my goodness I can’t believe I just fell down the stairs, that’s so embarrassing.” Part of Joseph’s costume was falling apart once and you’re just… “oh, please don’t let your little skirt fall down!” In a cast with so many guys, they like to make fun of each other so if something goes wrong you can see a twinkle in their eyes. Some of them I can’t look at if something goes wrong because I will just lose it! It’s been pretty smooth though.

"The 25th Annual Putnan County Spelling Bee." Photo courtesy of Alison MacDonald

What do you do in the last hour before a performance to get ready?

Something that’s with me every show is Ricola. I have to have a Ricola and drink a lot of water. I like to get there an hour and a half before and it’s my quiet time, just doing my hair and makeup, and focusing. I like going onto the stage to stretch and warm up. Sometimes if I’m tired I’ll warm up less because I don’t want to push it before the show. If it’s a heavier show with darker material I’ll need a bit more breathing time, just checking in, a little yoga. I’m not great at yoga, but a couple of sun salutations will help ground me and get me into the head space.

Do you have a favourite role that you’ve performed?

I just did Maria in The Sound of Music in Vancouver, and that was a dream role. A lot of times people just see her as this nun who becomes a governess. But this is a woman who’s trying to find where she fits in the world, she’s challenging beliefs that she had ever since she was young, and on top of that she’s falling in love and has these kids… I really like the challenge of that role and getting to sing more of my soprano.

Speaking of which, there’s quite a vocal range for The Narrator in Joseph, isn’t there?

This is definitely the hardest show I’ve done, vocally. The Narrator doesn’t really stop. She comes in and sings a pretty little lullaby, and then it’s really really high, and sometimes belting really high, then really low… this show is all over the place. Before we started I said “by the end of the summer I’m either not going to have a voice, or I’m going to be in the best vocal condition ever.”

How’s it looking so far?

Best vocal condition ever!

Do you have a dream role that you haven’t done yet?

Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, she’d be fantastic. I’d love to play Maria again, just because she’s such a great role. I really love Sondheim, so Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, too. I can’t wait to get a bit older so I can play the character roles, but I feel fortunate because I’ve been able to play some of my dream roles.

In "The Marvelous Wonderettes," photo courtesy of Alison MacDonald

Who inspires you?

I get inspired by people I know who work hard and find creativity in their everyday life. People who are going after their dreams. I was living in Vancouver, and I loved everyone I worked with and I was really excited about the work there, but I wanted to work with new people so I moved to Toronto. It was an open page to work with somebody new and see what they bring to the table. The unknown has been really inspiring.

Do you see yourself transitioning to film or television, or is the stage where you want to be?

The stage is where I love to be. It would be a huge energy to put towards that, when theatre is really my passion. I do want to look into voice over, I think that would be really fun and as a musical theatre performer it’s… not an easy transition, but it makes sense, to use your voice in that capacity as well.

Is there any particular place or theatre you’d love to perform at?

Oh, I’d love to work at the Shaw Festival in Niagara on the Lake, or the Stratford Festival. One of those festivals would be amazing. For the longest time, growing up in Alberta, I wanted to work at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, and I get to in April! It will be great because I’ll be close to my family again, I’ll stay with my sister for a few months and do what I love.

Do you enjoy all the travel?

I like it and I hate it! I love getting to see different parts of the country, especially as an adult now, but my life’s in Toronto and I’m basically paying rent to store my furniture right now. The good definitely outweighs the bad, but there are times when I want to sit on MY couch, I want to sleep in MY bed!

No matter how much you love it, it’s got to get a tiring sometimes.

It gets tiring, for sure. But that’s why it’s nice to come to places I’ve been before, like Chemainus, where there’s a little bit of familiarity.

Alison as The Narrator. Photo by George Blumel, courtesy of The Chemainus Theatre.

When you’re not performing, what kind of things do you do?

This summer, because we’re in Chemainus and I don’t have a car, I decided I would rent a violin and teach myself, so I’m doing some very beginner fiddle playing. I scrapbook, I like making cards for people, reading, going for walks – especially being close to nature right now, you get rejuvenated by it. When I’m not in a show I’m reading a lot of plays, learning new songs for auditions, going and seeing other people’s work – live music and shows. I like having a bit of down time between contracts. I think it’s important to be re-inspired by other things. If you have a break and come back to the work you see it in a different light.

 I’ve seen other productions of this show, and I really liked your Narrator… your voice is very clear.

Aww! It’s interesting, there’s this new thing with musical theatre, it’s belt, belt, belt all the time and make it sound like it hurts. I had someone once tell me, “sing it like it’s hurting you. Don’t make it hurt, but make it sound like it does.” And I just said “you’ve cast the wrong girl.” That was in my head coming into this because I don’t really sing like that; I have a clearer sound to my voice. So it’s great to hear people like a different approach. I had a friend come to see the show last night and she played the Narrator in Vancouver a few years ago. We’re fairly similar, but very different at the same time. She said “you were so sweet! You were a nice Narrator. I was sassy.” So I’m a nice Narrator, I guess!

Yes, your voice has a… friendly quality.

(laughing) “That narrator was so friendly!”

Visit for more photos and information. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat continues at the Chemainus Theatre until September 8, 2012.

Thanks, Alison!


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4 Responses to “Alison MacDonald: “Joseph’s” Friendly Narrator”

  1. Sue Knutsen
    August 14, 2012 at 8:27 am #

    Good article Kate!

  2. Julie Bayley
    August 19, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

    Thanks for this article. My daughter Kara is one of the kids in “Joseph” this summer and she is really enjoying being in the show alongside Alison. I enjoyed learning more about Alison through the article. She has been doing a fabulous job as the Narrator!

    • Kate
      August 19, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

      How exciting for your daughter, she must be having so much fun! Thanks for your comment!

  3. Charity
    August 21, 2012 at 10:32 am #

    I was fortunate to go to “Joseph” in July and wish you could include an audio/video clip of Alison’s performance so everyone could hear her amazing voice.

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