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Christie MacDonald, lyric soprano, musical comedy star (1875-1962)

Photograph of Christie MacDonald, circa 1920

Source
Christie MacDonald, circa 1920

When Christie MacDonald made her stage debut at the age of 17 in the musical Puritania, she launched a career on the Broadway stage that would endure for more than 25 years. North American audiences adored the petite, blond, blue-eyed singer/actress, to the extent that in 1992, a Broadway musical about her life was presented to sold-out houses.

MacDonald was born in Pictou, Nova Scotia on February 28, 1875 to Jessie MacKenzie and John MacLean MacDonald. Her musical training began in Nova Scotia, where she studied with bandmaster John Stramberg.

In an interview, MacDonald recalled one of her earliest performances, in a local church in Pictou, when she was supposed to sing "Come Here, Little Birdie," but came down with a case of stage fright: "I forgot to call 'little birdie', and the audience, not knowing the circumstances, said it was the finest bit of character acting Pictou had ever seen" (The New York Times, July 27, 1962).

MacDonald and her family eventually moved to Boston where she continued her musical studies. When actor Francis Wilson brought his musical Erminie to Boston in 1892, MacDonald's teacher arranged an audition with Wilson, and MacDonald was chosen to sing in the chorus. MacDonald also was the understudy for a number of the principal parts, and in time, had opportunities to sing lead roles.

MacDonald's first significant stage performance occurred in 1892, when, as a member of the company of Pauline Hall, she appeared as a young page in Puritania. MacDonald appeared in secondary roles for a number of years, and then in February 1900 she sang the lead for the first time in the title role of Princess Chic by Kirke LaShelle and Julian Edwards. She played "the part of a woman who had to be 'swaggering, audacious and masculinely incisive as the princess, and then, masquerading as her own envoy, timid, modest and shrinkingly feminine as the make-believe peasant girl'" (The New York Times, July 27, 1962).

She also appeared in Miss Hook of Holland, The Toreador (1900), Prince of Bohemia (1900), Champagne Charlie and Mexicana. In 1901, she also appeared in The Sho Gun, which played in famous New York venues such as Wallack's and the Casino.  Sometime around this time she also the role of Pitti-Sing in Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado.

Her first big hit in New York took place in 1910 when she sang the role of Princess of Bozena in the operetta The Spring Maid. The popular show opened on December 26, 1910 at the Liberty Theatre and ran for 192 performances. In 1911, MacDonald recorded "Two Little Love Bees" and "Day Dreams, Visions of Bliss" from The Spring Maid on the Victor Label.

In 1913, MacDonald was engaged for the lead role in Victor Herbert's Sweethearts. Herbert wrote the part of Sylvia specifically for MacDonald, and this became one of her favourite roles. In the same year, MacDonald recorded songs from Sweethearts on the Victor label.

MacDonald sang her final Broadway role in 1920, appearing as Lady Hollyrood in a revival of Floradora. She died on July 25, 1962 at the age of 87 in Westport, Connecticut. One obituary described her as an "active doyenne of the Westport theatrical colony, a frequent patroness of theatrical events and favorite guest at all the parties" (Variety, August 1, 1962).

In 1992, 30 years after her death, a group of artists, musicians and composers presented the musical Christie in Pictou, Nova Scotia at the Coastline Theatre at the deCoste Entertainment Centre. A tribute to Christie MacDonald's life, the musical "follows Christie's life from age 10, when she was performing in Pictou church choirs, to being moved by her father, along with the entire family, to Boston to further her career … and ending at the peak of her career when composer Victor Herbert wrote…Sweethearts for her" (Pictou Advocate, May 13, 1992).

The musical was a success at the box office, and received positive reviews -- a fitting tribute to Christie MacDonald's successful career on the Broadway stage.

For more information on Christie MacDonald's recordings, please consult the Virtual Gramophone database.


References

Bell, Margaret. -- "The little princess of the stage : the rise of Christie MacDonald, winsome portrayer of madcap royalty". -- Maclean's magazine. -- 1913. -- P. 35-37, 97. -- AMICUS No. 9325096

"Christie MacDonald dies at 87 ; musical comedy star, 1910-20". -- The New York times.  -- July 27, 1962. -- AMICUS No. 14974826

"Story of Pictou's Broadway sweetheart to come to life on the stage". -- Pictou advocate. -- May 13, 1992. -- AMICUS No. 8713850

Variety. -- New York : [Variey Pub. Co.], 1905- . -- August 1, 1962. -- AMICUS No. 1342265