For five decades and counting, The Charlottetown Festival has always been a tight-knit community, and this year’s cast and company is no exception. Several family connections can be found across this summer’s playbill, including Mamma Mia! star Eliza-Jane Scott and her young son, Ducolon Banville, who joins her as a Child of Avonlea in Anne of Green Gables—The Musical™. David Cotton, who plays husband-to-be Sky in Mamma Mia!, has enjoyed the summer alongside his actual wife, Sarah Vance in both mainstage productions. The Spoon River company featured two husband and wife teams: new ‘Islanders By Choice,’ Matt Campbell and Alicia Toner, as well as Brendan Wall and Mary Francis Moore.
The greatest link however, connecting three productions and the summer and fall seasons, is the Guy-McGrath/Phillipson clan. Dora-Award winner Stephen Guy-McGrath splits his time playing Aussie funnyman Bill Anderson in Mamma Mia! and Cecil the Farmer in Anne™. Guy-McGrath is joined by daughter Eleanor Guy in Anne™ who plays his on-stage daughter. Guy-McGrath’s wife Melanie Phillipson also arrived on P.E.I. recently and begins rehearsals this month for the final production of the season, Belles Soeurs: The Musical, opening September 13.
“Coming to the Festival together really strengthens the feeling that already exists of the theatre being a family,” Guy-McGrath offers. “I love walking to work with Eleanor and having a little quiet time before the show. It’s nice to be able to talk to your kid about your work and passion — knowing that they understand it and feel the same way. At the theatre I really try to let her do her own thing. It makes me very proud as a father to watch her navigate a professional environment and display such maturity and discipline. Frankly she’s better behaved then I am!”
Adapted from Michel Tremblay’s internationally acclaimed novel, Belles Soeurs: The Musical is an English-language comedy with an all-female cast and comes to P.E.I. following sold-out runs at the Segal Centre and the NAC. “These beautifully-connected, diverse women share deep bonds rooted in decades of friendship but are also flawed and vulnerable,” Phillipson explains. “It has been so well-received in Montreal and Ottawa and it will be interesting to see how Islanders respond. There is no need to be fearful of anything ‘too French!’ Anyone with a mother, a fondness for storytelling with music, and a nostalgia for Bingo will most certainly enjoy this piece.”
Phillipson is reprising her role as Thérèse Dubuc, a comedic turn that includes caring for her elderly mother, Olivine, and in one unforgettable musical montage, recreating the drama of a Bingo game in slow motion with a giant ball in a hopper. Her past credits include several seasons with the Shaw Festival, as well as Tarragon, Drayton, and others.
“I love that my character is very ‘real’ and not vain or pretentious. I get to channel my grandmother from Saskatchewan who was a very strong-willed, hard-working, stubborn woman who made time for sewing, quilting, gossiping and playing Bingo,” she continues. “I love the aesthetic and era of this piece, 1960’s Montreal, and, truly, the whole 12-member ensemble is incredible.”