Separately, Bette MacDonald, Heather Rankin, Lucy MacNeil and Jenn Sheppard are four of the biggest names to come out of Cape Breton. And although each has flourishing individual careers, together as the Island Girls, they are a seemingly unstoppable force of nature as they get ready to go back on the road across The Maritimes, including a stop in Halifax on April 8.
We’ve all worked together in one form or another, but this is probably the most brilliant combination yet. – Heather Rankin
“Island Girls is a gathering of four very distinctly different voices that make a powerhouse sound together singing both original and familiar songs,” says singer, songwriter and actor Heather Rankin.
“Plus, we have a great band of Cape Breton musicians behind us and some brilliant comedy,” she adds. “We’ve all worked together in one form or another, but this is probably the most brilliant combination yet.”
The brainchild of Cape Breton musician Stephen Muise, this will be the fourth outing for the Island Girls since they joined forces in 2017. Comedian Bette MacDonald remembers when she first got the call from Muise with the idea.
“My husband Maynard and I were at the store buying batteries when we got a phone call from Stephen, who said he had this fantastic idea for a show,” she says.
“Our first reaction was to wonder why no one had thought of it before,” continues MacDonald. “When he talked about the people he wanted to be involved, it was a no-brainer because I know these women and immediately loved getting on stage with them and their considerable talents. I just loved the idea from the get-go and have loved every minute of this experience since.”
Always looking to “shake things up,” the show has continued to change and grow since they began performing together four years ago. “We all like to keep things fresh and keep adding and subtracting to keep it new and exciting for us and the audience,” says MacDonald.
While bringing together four strong women may sound like a recipe for creative differences, McNeil, best known for her work with the musical family group The Barra MacNeils, says the reality has been very different.
“Everything seemed to fall into place,” she says. “Stephen has a very good sense of what works and because each of us brought our own material I don’t remember throwing everything into the middle and fighting over it.”
“In talking to Stephen about this idea, he wanted to represent the four different corners of Cape Breton,” adds singer-songwriter Sheppard. “And within our four musical and comedic careers, that’s been covered with everybody coming from a different direction, and somehow it works.”
MacDonald says they are just happy to be able to perform together. “None of this is lost on us, and we’re very grateful that we get to go out and tour and do this material that we love, and I think that’s why we have such a good time,” she says.
Sheppard says the show’s success comes from doing what they do best.
“The show allows for each individual’s material to be celebrated by everybody else,” she says. “We all spend time admiring each other, and I think that feeling comes through in the show because it’s genuine, and we couldn’t be more excited to be together again.”
For MacNeil, while the show allows each of the four women to shine individually, a highlight comes from one of the show’s many comedy moments.
“Just the three of them sitting on the bench doing their sketch is incredible,” she says. “I don’t want to give away too much, so I ruin it, but you’ll want to look forward to the bench.”
Rankin says that when the four come together in song, the show is at its most potent, with MacDonald pointing to the group’s homage to another Cape Breton legend, Rita MacNeil, as an example.
The show allows for each individual’s material to be celebrated by everybody else. We all spend time admiring each other, and I think that feeling comes through in the show because it’s genuine, and we couldn’t be more excited to be together again. – Jenn Sheppard
“There are harmonies that happen during the night that knocks my socks off every time, but that moment is quite something in how beautiful their voices are together,” she says.
As the four have continued to find success as the Island Girls on stage, the idea of a future album has also come up.
“We have talked about putting some tracks down and having some sort of an Island Girls product,” says Sheppard. “Nothing has been confirmed, but we are hopeful.”
In the meantime, the four are excited to be back on stage following the pandemic’s many stops and starts. “And it’s time,” says Rankin. “Everyone’s just chomping at the bit to sit and be entertained.”
“[Island Girls] is going to be a moment when you can release the real world and jump into two hours of really good feelings, some good messages, and a whole lot of laughs,” says Sheppard.
“We’re going to leave the outside outside, and what we’re going to do is have a huge, fun musical party,” adds MacDonald. “It’s a joyful thing, and we cannot wait to get at it.”
“It’s a time to forget what’s going on in the world, forget the last two years and just come out and enjoy yourself,” says McNeil.
“We have taken some songs written by the best Atlantic Canadian singer-songwriters, given them a new arrangement, a new sound and presented in a way they’ve not been heard before,” concludes Rankin. “And I think that, combined with the hilarious comedy, will send you home with a skip in your step.”
Brookes Diamond Productions presents Island Girls 2 on tour across The Maritimes with stops in Fredericton (April 5), Charlottetown (April 6), Saint John (April 7), Halifax (April 8), Moncton (April 9), Glace Bay (April 29), Port Hawkesbury (May 1) & Pictou (May 7). Visit brookesdiamondproductions.com for tickets and more information.