Tag Archives: Aaron Hastelow

Rock the Castle

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There isn’t anything to be or not to be about “Kronborg – The Hamlet Rock Musical” as it kicks off the 55th season at The Charlottetown Festival on Prince Edward Island. It’s all about being, being in front and making it happen. There’s nothing indecisive about Hamlet. He’s got Claudius in his crosshairs nearly from the get-go.

Lawrence Olivier, who directed and starred in an acclaimed movie adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” in 1948, said it is “the story of a man who cannot make up his mind.” The Hamlet of “Kronborg” doesn’t have that problem. His world has been rocked. He has got to make up his mind.

Hamlet’s first song “That It Should Come To This” – sung by Island-born Aaron Hastelow, in a grim dazzling performance of a determined rather than irresolute prince – is performed right after the Ghost King has made himself known to Marcellus and Horatio, and Claudius and Gertrude have made themselves known to Hamlet. He soon has a good idea of the double-dealing he doesn’t know everything about, yet. From that moment on it is hands on the wheel.

The singing is brisk and strong throughout, from the leads to the ensemble. Peter McBoyle, the show’s sound designer, has worked on several musicals at the Confederation Centre, including “Jesus Christ Superstar.” The orchestra, led by Craig Fair, leading the way, gets it done down in the pit, always there as the story unfolds.

Aaron Hastelow gets it done up top up front as Hamlet.

“From seeing a ten-minute segment of the piece in a review show when I was 13-years-old, to now, it’s surreal,” said Aaron⁣. “I need to acknowledge the tireless work of Craig Fair, giving us all this chance, and Cliff Jones for writing some of the most beautiful and memorable melodies. After 45 years, it’s time to share this show with audiences once again. Let’s rock!”

The show starts off with a bang, at the end of the story, as the last of all the main characters, save Horatio, fall down dead, and a black-clad dance troupe of post-modern Greek Furies peck at the fallen, pecking out the vengeance of the Ghost King, Hamlet’s father

“To be or not to be” is never spoken. “Let it be” by The Beatles is invoked. There will be blood is what is on everybody’s lips.

Lawrence Olivier once also said, “Lead the audience by the nose to the thought.” It’s an unfortunate phrase. Who wants to be led by the nose to anything? It’s far better to smell it out for yourself.

“Kronborg” propels the audience headlong to its windswept thought on passages of brisk music and stirring song and able-bodied dance and crafty staging, the twisting plot turning high and low. There are barely two lines of dialogue strung together to transition the songs. It is in some senses like an opera, incorporating all the elements of spoken theater, but sung instead of spoken.

It’s unlike an opera, however, since every word can be understood, it never stands still for long to show off a singer, the songs being embedded in the story, and it is exciting as hell from beginning to end. It bursts with energy.

“It’s a story of family, power, revenge, and sacrifice,” said Adam Brazier, artistic director at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown, where the show was resurrected on their main stage, the Homburg Theatre, playing in repertory alongside both “Anne of Green Gables” and “Mamma Mia!”

It is by far the darker, and arguably the more galvanizing, show in town. There’s something both rockin’ and rotten in Denmark.  It’s been said about rock ‘n’ roll that the devil has all the best tunes and the devil is not going anywhere. It’s also been said that shake rattle and roll and three chords are where the truth is. Whatever the truth is, the show is masterminded, exact and sparkling, never slack, always on the go.

Only the Ghost King takes his time.

The set by scenic designer Brian Smith is German Expressionist, a kind of Cabinet of Dr. Caligari castle, ramparts, a ramp and movable stairs, and arched entranceways. A forest as bleak as prison bars is lowered several times, the trees jagged and menacing, no escape. The rest of the set is minimalist, from the overhead part medieval part modernist chandelier to Gertrude’s dressing room, more suggestion and more effective because of the suggestion.

Nothing in the background gets in the way of the song and dance and narrative in the foreground.

When Honeybelle – Nicola-Dawn Brook in a red beret and man the barricades – and the players of the play within the play belt out the gospel inspired “He Got It In the Ear,” the fulcrum on which the plot rests tilts and everything becomes the gospel truth.

Hamlet, Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes, and Ophelia pour their hearts out in “I Cannot Turn to Love” at the end of Act One. It ends suddenly. The stage goes dark.

You can’t wait for intermission to be over.

The musical was conceived and written in the early 1970s by Cliff Jones, He wrote it while working on the children’s TV show “Mr. Dressup.” A Toronto composer and lyricist, his original “Hamlet: The Musical” has been reprised several times. It played on Broadway in 1976 as “Rockabye Hamlet,” starring the rock star Meat Loaf.

It came back to PEI in concert form in 2017 in at the Indian River Festival. Cliff Jones was in the audience. Following the production at St. Mary’s Church, another concert was performed at the Confederation Centre. Shortly after that the wheels were set in motion to stage the show again.

“It’s back where it began and where, in my mind, it’s always belonged,” Cliff Jones said about the production at the Charlottetown Festival.

“When people on the Island found out that Craig Fair and I were working on “Kronborg” they all had their own story,” said Mary Francis Moore, directing the show.  “Who brought them to the show in 1974? What seat they were sitting in when they heard Cliff’s score. What it was like to work on the first Canadian show to ever make it to Broadway.”

The musical is more than just a piece of the Charlottetown Festival’s history.

“We recognize the significance the piece plays. We have dusted off the pages to create a re-envisioned production that has been fully re-orchestrated and re-arranged – new life breathed into this Canadian classic.”

The composer sat in on some of the rehearsals. “I saw what they were doing with this incredible company and with Craig Fair’s new arrangement and musical direction,” said Cliff Jones. “I’m thrilled. It’s been framing my life for the last 45 years. It’s renewed me.

“The show has always carried a special combination of being a fun, entertaining experience, but also being faithful to Shakespeare’s story.”

Kronborg is a 1400s stronghold castle in Helsingor, Denmark, that became Elsinore in Shakespeare’s late 1500s tragedy in five acts. “Kronborg – The Hamlet Rock Musical” is in two acts. Not a moment is wasted, but all the key moments are there, from the Ghost King to setting the scene of Gertrude and Claudius’s marriage, Claudius getting suspicious and Hamlet’s turmoil, the king’s plotting and the play within the play, Hamlet inadvertently killing Polonius, the banishment and the tragic climax.

There is even some ribald fun along the way, especially when a freshly re-imagined Rosencrantz and Guildenstern make their appearance. They aren’t what you expect. They are nimble and treacherous, like street cats on the prowl.

Claudius is on the prowl, too, as Act Two starts, aware of the grave threat that Hamlet presents, and he conspires with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to solve the problem. Gertrude – played by Alana Hibbert – big league but tottering by then, sings the first of her two affecting prophetic solo’s, “Somebody Wrote the Wrong Words,” as fate speeds up.

Laertes and the full company sing “Eye for an Eye” and the die is cast.

It all comes down to Claudius and Hamlet.

Costume designer Jeff Chief doubles the king and his step-son, both men in black, both lean and mean, although Hamlet is largely in wool-like fabric, softening the effect, keeping him on the side of flesh and blood, while Claudius is largely in leather, making him more reptilian. Claudius is Axl Rose meets Johnny Rotten meets villainy most foul.

The costumes are severe, Edwardian mixed with some Mad Max, while the female leads are often more flowing, leaving trails streaking behind them as they cross the stage. Anachronistic pants are used to good effect, especially when the doomed Ophelia jumps into the lap of the standing Hamlet, straddling him, hanging on for dear life.

Cameron MacDuffie, a veteran of the Centre who describes himself as a man who “lives out past where the sidewalk ends,” plays Claudius as a man who doesn’t give a damn about sidewalks. He is self-aware, as most of Shakespeare’s wrongdoers are, and not beneath self-pity, but his self is more selfish and slyly arrogant than it is anything else. He is the king and the kingdom is his person. Beyond him, nothing matters.

It is an astonishing performance.

When Gertrude sings “No Use Pretending,” which might be one of the best songs of the musical, and is certainly the most moving, near the end of Act Two, she is singing for herself, but for everyone else, too. Polonius and Ophelia are dead. The roof is about to cave in on everyone’s heads.

Fight director Anita Nittoly stages the penultimate sword fight between Hamlet and Laertes Robin Hood-style, lithe and desperate. It is thrilling and horrible, knowing there is poison. When the end comes only Horatio is left standing, and joined by the Ghost King in the ramparts, bears witness to what becomes of treachery and revenge.

“Kronborg – The Hamlet Rock Musical” breathes new life into a play more than four hundred years old, and dirty work as old as time. It resonates because it speaks to our own times.

“A nefarious transition of power has taken place in Denmark and the future is uncertain,” says Adam Brazier. “It is a story that is eerily familiar to the current landscape of the world at large.”

Early in Shakespeare’s play, in Act One, Scene 4, Marcellus says, “Something is rotten in Denmark.” The Hamlet of “Kronborg” doesn’t worry about to be or not to be. Something has got to be done. He rocks the castle to get the rot out. He gets it done.

PEI Professional Theatre Network

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PEI Theatre is the Guild, Harbourfront Theatre,
Confederation Centre for the Arts,
Watermark Theatre, and the Victoria Playhouse

Kronborg Hits the Homburg

Kronborg—The Hamlet Rock Musical opens June 21 at Confederation Centre

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“To be or not to be” is the most famous question in all of drama. And it is around this central question that the history of Kronborg–The Hamlet Rock Musical hangs upon.

And like Hamlet returning to Denmark, this celebrated Canadian musical is returning to The Charlottetown Festival, 45 years since it was first produced here. Sponsored by SYSCO Food Services the production runs June 28 to July 20—just 15 nights—in the Homburg Theatre at Confederation Centre of the Arts. Preview performances are slated for June 21 and June 27.

Cliff Jones, the musical’s creator, is excited to see the show take on a new life. “This talented company and this theatre will be incredible for Kronborg,” he muses, “and I’ve also gotten the chance to tweak little things that have nagged me for years.”

The electrifying rock production has been revived by Director Mary Francis Moore and Music Director Craig Fair, as well as the talented Festival cast, crew, and orchestra. But it was a winding road back to Charlottetown and the world-renowned Festival.

First commissioned as a CBC radio play in 1973, the original title was Kronborg: 1582, named for the Danish castle and year Shakespeare’s original revenge tragedy takes place.Jones’ inspiration came from when he first heard the Jesus Christ  Superstar soundtrack, which married anthemic rock music with rich storytelling. It is a curious symmetry that the Kronborg remount follows last summer’s Superstar as the next “big Festival show” here on the Centre mainstage. Both productions also star Island son, Aaron Hastelow.

After the original radio production in 1973, the play moved to the stage at Confederation Centre. Its first staging at the Festival in 1974 was an absolute hit leading to an eastern Canadian tour with Brent Carver as Hamlet and Beverly D’Angelo as Ophelia. In the following years Jones and other directors would tackle this production through diverse variations. These included a month-long Broadway engagement as Rockabye Hamlet (1976), and a 14-month run in L.A. in the early ‘80s as Something’s Rockin in Denmark.

Then, the play was put to rest.

It wasn’t until years later when Jones crossed paths with Adam Brazier—the Centre’s artistic director—that Kronborg was given a new lease on life and was turned into a concert performance at the Historic St. Mary’s Church in Indian River, P.E.I. in 2017. Jones came back to Charlottetown while recovering from a serious health scare with Legionnaire’s disease. “The disease had quickly destroyed me,” he recalls, “I was delirious, could hardly recognize my daughters, was lethargic, and battling depression.”

When the Kronborg writer came in for rehearsals it gave him a new purpose. “I saw what they were doing with this incredible company and with Craig Fair’s new arrangements and musical direction. It made my life worth living again; it renewed me.”

Jones recalls the sold-out Indian River concert—with full company and an orchestra—as thrilling. Indeed, a Buzz review described the rock opera as “spectacular and electrifying…Aaron Hastelow shone brightly as Hamlet.”

For Jones, he pondered, “Can it get any better than this?” It turns out it certainly can. The new show is set to run for 15 nights this summer on the main stage.

When asked what endures about Kronborg all these years later, the writer offers “It’s always carried a special combination of being a fun, entertaining experience but also being faithful to Shakespeare’s story—to thine own self be true.”

New life for the writer and his storied musical awaits at this year’s Festival.

The full artistic team for Kronborg: The Hamlet Rock Musical is listed online. Confederation Centre wishes to acknowledge the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Government of P.E.I., and the City of Charlottetown for their continued support. The Charlottetown Festival is sponsored by CIBC.

PEI Professional Theatre Network

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PEI Theatre is the Guild, Harbourfront Theatre,
Confederation Centre for the Arts,
Watermark Theatre, and the Victoria Playhouse

Casting Announced for Mamma Mia

The Charlottetown Festival: Complete Casting Announced for Mamma Mia!

Co-production between Charlottetown and The Grand Theatre has begun rehearsals in London, ON

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The Charlottetown Festival returns to an idyllic Greek island for Mamma Mia! this summer, and rehearsals are underway for the first leg of the show’s co-production with The Grand Theatre.

The blockbuster musical plays in London, Ontario from April 23 to May 18 and then The Charlottetown Festival company makes its homecoming to “the other island paradise” to begin work on Anne of Green Gables—The Musical™ and Kronborg—The Hamlet Rock Musical.

Mamma Mia! will play in Charlottetown from August 9 to September 28. Artistic Director of Confederation Centre of the Arts, Adam Brazier is directing the ABBA-driven phenomenon, and has announced complete casting. This week marks 20 years since the world-wide smash hit first premiered in London’s West End.

As previously revealed, the production stars Katie Kerr, as bride-to-be ‘Sophie’ and Rebecca Poff as her single-mother ‘Donna’. Aaron Hastelow plays Sophie’s beau, ‘Sky’, while her two best friends ’Ali’ and ‘Lisa’ are anchored by Hailey Lewis and Kim Truong.

Sophie is to be married but wants to first find her father so he can walk her down the aisle. She invites three possible men from Donna’s past to the wedding—Cam MacDuffee (the Festival’s On the Road with Dutch Mason) as ‘Harry’; Stephen Guy-McGrath (Million Dollar Quartet) as ‘Bill’, and Festival newcomer, Michael Torontow as ‘Sam’.

Rounding out the principal cast are Festival favourites Nicole Dawn Brook (Bittergirl—The Musical) and Susan Henley (Anne™) as the Super Troupers, ‘Rosie’ and ‘Tanya’; as well as Connor Lucasand Anthony MacPherson as party boys, ‘Eddie’ and ‘Pepper’. See complete casting in addendum.

Mamma Mia! is sponsored by Tim Hortons and plays the Homburg Theatre at Confederation Centre of the Arts. Musical direction is from Craig Fair, choreography by Lisa Stevens, set and costumes by Cory Sincennes, lighting design from Renée Brode, and sound design from Peter McBoyle.

Confederation Centre wishes to acknowledge the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Government of P.E.I., and the City of Charlottetown for their continued support.

PEI Professional Theatre Network

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PEI Theatre is the Guild, Harbourfront Theatre,
Confederation Centre for the Arts,
Watermark Theatre, and the Victoria Playhouse

One More Night

Second Show Added for ‘An Evening with Aaron Hastelow and Friends’

Beloved Islander is up close at The Mack January 11 and 12; special guests include Tara MacLean and Alicia Toner

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After multiple years selling out this annual cabaret, Hastelow has planned the 2019 edition for The Mack, on Friday, January 11 at 7:30 p.m. Now, with tickets virtually sold out, Confederation Centre has added a second night for the show, Saturday January 12 at 7:30 p.m.

For the cabarets, Hastelow will welcome special guest Alicia Toner, a 2018 Music PEI Award-winner for her debut album I Learned the Hard Way, and a Charlottetown Festival veteran from Million Dollar Quartet, Spoon River, Evangeline, and more. Toner is also releasing a brand new single ‘Dangerous Home’ on January 11. Hastelow and Toner will come together to sing ‘Shallow’ from the recent Hollywood hit, A Star is Born.

Hastelow will also collaborate with special guest and fellow Islander, Tara MacLean, an award-winning singer-songwriter and star of her own show, Atlantic Blue. He will also welcome a guest band of all-star musicians, including Craig Fair (recent music director for The Charlottetown Festival), Andrew Murray, Jon Matthews, and Trevor Grant. Some of the choice musical selections on the night will include Fleetwood Mac, John Legend, Ed Sheeran, The Cranberries, Dave Matthews Band, Miley Cyrus, and more.

In 2017, Hastelow released his self-titled debut album, recorded at the Sound Mill Recording Studio, garnering three Music PEI Award nominations. After studying musical theatre at Sheridan, the Charlottetown native has appeared in theatre festivals across the country, including with Vancouver Opera, Neptune, Aquarius, and three seasons at Shaw Festival.

He also recently starred as the lead of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Centre and will star again as Hamlet in Kronborg—The Hamlet Rock Musical and as Sky in Mamma Mia! at the 2019 Festival. Other previous Festival credits include Ring of Fire and two seasons as Gilbert Blythe in Anne of Green Gables—The Musical™.

Special thanks are extended to the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Province of Prince Edward Island, and the City of Charlottetown, as well to media sponsors Ocean 100, Hot 105.5, and The Guardian. This concert is presented as part of Sobeys LIVE @ the Centre.

For more details, visit confederationcentre.com. Tickets are going fast and can be purchased at the Centre box office, or online.

A Night With Aaron

An Evening with Aaron Hastelow & Friends

| The Mack

Join Island son and Charlottetown Festival favourite, Aaron Hastelow for one night only! Aaron has performed across Canada, recently starred in Jesus Christ Superstar at Confederation Centre, and released his self-titled debut album last year, garnering three Music PEI Award nods.

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Aaron has basically grown up at Confederation Centre of the Arts, with a long history spent in Centre dance classes, playing a child of Avonlea in Anne of Green Gables-The Musical™, and a summer with the Confederation Centre Young Company. After studying musical theatre, he has gone on to perform in numerous seasons at The Charlottetown Festival, including roles in Mamma Mia!, Ring of Fire, and two seasons as Anne’s beau, Gilbert Blythe, in Anne of Green Gables-The Musical™

Aaron welcomes special guests Alicia Toner, a Music PEI Award-winner for her debut album I Learned the Hard Way, seven-year Charlottetown Festival veteran with Spoon River, Evangeline, Million Dollar Quartet, and more;  and Tara MacLean, singer-songwriter, award-winning recording and touring artist, and star of her new show, Atlantic Blue.

Casting Announced for 2019 Charlottetown Festival

Select Casting Announced for Mamma Mia! and Kronborg—The Hamlet Rock Musical

The 2019 Charlottetown Festival launching 50% off sale, November 17 to December 1

Artistic Director Adam Brazier, on behalf of Confederation Centre of the Arts, has announced select casting for The 2019 Charlottetown Festival. Sponsored by CIBC, the Festival includes six productions and runs June 28 to September 28.

Rebecca Poff and Katie Kerr will star as mother and daughter Donna and Sophie in Mamma Mia!, a co-production with the Grand Theatre in London, playing in the Homburg Theatre August 9 to September 27. Poff turned heads in the Festival’s  2018 concert performance of The House of Martin Guerre and also appeared in Jesus Christ Superstar and Anne of Green Gables—The Musical™. A native of Sudbury, Ontario, Poff has performed throughout the continent, including in the Canadian National Tour of The Phantom of the Opera and the U.S. National/Broadway tours of Show Boat.

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Kerr returns to the Greek Islands of Mamma Mia!, having previously starred as Sophie in the blockbuster 2016 production in Charlottetown, as well as with two other theatres. Kerr’s other credits consist of multiple roles in Anne of Green Gables—The Musical™, including the title role from 2013-14, and in the world premiere of Evangeline. “Sophie is really the driving force in Mamma Mia!” says Brazier, who will once again direct the musical. “It’s no wonder Katie has since played the role across Canada; she is a tour de force as Sophi

The Festival’s new production of Kronborg—The Hamlet Rock Musical runs June 28 until July 20 in the Homburg Theatre. Directed by the Festival’s associate artistic, Mary Francis Moore, the powerhouse rock musical is an electric experience, following Hamlet’s quest for vengeance upon his uncle Claudius for killing his father. Aaron Hastelow stars as Hamlet and will also appear in Mamma Mia! as Sophie’s beau, Skye. 

Brazier is pleased to welcome back Festival favourite Cameron MacDuffee opposite Hastelow as Claudius, King of Denmark. MacDuffee recently appeared as a scene-stealing King Herod in the Festival’s Jesus Christ Superstar, and has performed across Canada, including four seasons at Shaw Festival. His Charlottetown highlights include turns in Evangeline, Ring of Fire, and On the Road with Dutch Mason. He will also reprise his role as Harry in Mamma Mia! at the 2019 Festival.

Making her mainstage debut in Kronborg—The Hamlet Rock Musical will be Kimberly Truong as Ophelia. Truong hails from Prince Rupert, B.C. and was previously part of the Confederation Centre Young Company in Les Feux Follets. She has appeared in productions of Les Misérables, West Side Story, and A Chorus Line. Last year, she made her Broadway debut in the celebrated revival of Miss Saigon. “It is thrilling to have Kimberly back at The Charlottetown Festival,“ remarks Brazier. ”She has an extraordinary voice and an undeniable presence onstage.”

The other big news is that the Festival is once again offering a ‘50% Off Sale’ ticket sale for the 2019 Festival. This sale is a favourite for Islanders searching for tickets every summer and is on sale for a limited time only. From November 17 to December 1 these can be purchased at the Centre box office, online, or by phone at 1 (902) 566-1267 or 1 (800) 565-0278. This sale is available for Founders’ Circle members as of November 16.

Additional casting, including a new leading star for Anne of Green Gables—The Musical™ and a new Gilbert, will be announced in the months ahead.

Lifting the Curtain

A fiery redhead. A grieving son. A gregarious family on the Rock. The musical pull of the Atlantic. A young woman’s search for family. Sit a spell. Have we got a story for you! Confederation Centre has announced the playbill for The Charlottetown Festival–the largest musical theatre festival in Atlantic Canada.

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Sponsored by CIBC, the Festival will commence June 28 with the much anticipated return of Kronborg–The Hamlet Rock Musical. This original Canadian work has become a cult favourite for Islanders who recall the 1975 production starring Brent Carver and Beverly D’Angelo. This remains the only production in the history of the Festival to be produced on Broadway.

Based on the Shakespearean tragedy Hamlet, originally written by Cliff Jones, this musical rocked the rafters in 2017, selling out a concert presentation at the Historic St. Mary’s Church in Indian River and later packing the Homburg Theatre. Next summer’s fully realized production will weave the story of a prince who plots revenge on his uncle for taking his beloved father’s life.

Festival favourite and Island son Aaron Hastelow, coming off rave reviews as the lead in this season’s Jesus Christ Superstar, will return to star as Hamlet next year. Additional major casting information will be revealed later this fall, when the Centre offers a ‘Buy-1-Get-1’ sale for a limited time only, from November 17 to December 1. The Festival will also announce production information on the 2019 Confederation Centre Young Company.

The Festival’s crown jewel Anne of Green Gables–The Musical™ will return for its 55th consecutive summer, a testament to the global appeal of a classic inspired by a classic. This enduring story of an orphan girl who came from away and changed the Island forever will run June 29 to September 28.

A mother, a daughter, three possible dads, and a trip down the aisle you’ll never forget! Back to the Centre by popular demand, it’s Mamma Mia! This sunny ABBA-driven tale follows a daughter’s quest to find her father by inviting three men from her mother’s past to her wedding. Presented as a co-production with the Grand Theatre in London, Mamma Mia! will play on P.E.I. from August 9 to September 28.

Over at The Mack, the Festival is thrilled to welcome Tara MacLean’s Maritime love-letter, Atlantic Blue. This celebration of East Coast songwriters previously played at The Guild, and will show from August 2 to September 28. MacLean explores the place and people behind classic songs like ‘Sonny’s Dream’, ‘Put Your Hand in the Hand’, ‘Fare Thee Well Love’, and more. The Island songwriter celebrates those who found a way to create beauty from the challenging experiences in their own lives. With the addition of members of the Festival and its orchestra, this new production will make every Atlantic Canadian proud.

From July 20 through September 28, Spinning Yarns will shine a light on Newfoundland and Labrador in the early ‘80s: a world of raucous adventures, death defying escapades, and dubious childcare! This hilarious evening of story and song stars festival favourite, Stephen Guy-McGrath (Evangeline, Million Dollar Quartet). Through it all shines a fierce love of family and a boundless longing for home.

The Centre wishes to acknowledge the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Government of P.E.I., and the City of Charlottetown for their continued support. Media sponsors are The Guardian, Hot 105.5, Ocean 100, and CTV.