Making the most of music

Sally Cole
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Singer Donna Garner excited about a new role that will put her on centre stage tonight during a concert with Island Boys Little Big Band at Confederation Centre of the Arts

Donna Garner will be fronting the Island Boys Little Big Band’s concert, A Lot of Livin’ to Do, at the Homburg Theatre of the Confederation Centre of the Arts tonight. Showtime is at 7:30 p.m.

When it comes to musical theatre, Donna Garner plays many roles.

Whether she’s associate music director for this past season’s Ring of Fire or  an actor playing Glinda, the Good Witch of the South (for the Confederation Centre’s upcoming production of Wizard of Oz), she can switch from creative team member to performer in a split-second wardrobe change.

“It’s about changing hats. I’ve been trained as a musician. I’ve also been trained as an actor and a singer, so I’m happy to have diverse opportunities that I’m able to grab hold of,” says Garner, during a telephone interview.

One of the many things that really interests her is performing music from the big band era. Garner was exposed to it as a child because her late uncle, Harvey Doxey, was a big band leader in Stratford, Ont., during the heyday of the genre, the 1930s and 1940s.

“My mother also sang all the old standards, so it’s in my blood. I love it. Even though my training was in classical music and musical theatre, I’ve always had a love for big band music. And it’s always been something I’ve done on the side,” says Garner, who is heading up a band of some of P.E.I’s best performers, singing her most cherished tunes from this golden era at a special show this evening in Charlottetown.

Donna Garner and the Island Boys Little Big Band’s concert, A Lot of Livin’ to Do, plays the Homburg Theatre of the Confederation Centre of the Arts at 7:30 p.m.

Garner laughs when she talks about her newest role — frontwoman for a band consisting of Max Keenlyside, Deryl Gallant, Alan Dowling, Ian Toms, Rowan Fitzgerald, Barrie Sorensen, Mark Parsons, Dan. St. Amand, Doug Millington and Dale Sorenson.

“I’ve got to keep all those men in line, but it will be easy. I come from a big family — nine brothers — so I’m pretty comfortable in the company a group of guys.

“And those guys are just tremendous. They come to rehearsal prepared and open to trying new ideas,” says Garner, who has been putting the final details to the night’s set list.

Audience members will hear such jazz standards as I Get A Kick Out of You, A Tisket, A Tasket and Embracable You.

She will be singing songs that were made famous by Ella Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Nat King Cole and others.

“We’ll also be doing some newer material, like Van Morrison’s Moon Dance. But mainly it’ll be from that golden age,” she says.

No stranger to The Charlottetown Festival, Garner made her P.E.I. debut in 2001 as one of the stars in 2 Pianos, 4 Hands at The Mack.

Last summer she was part of the ensemble for Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story.

“It was mainly backup vocals. So it’s going to be very nice to come out front and sing. Because that’s what my degree is in. I love to play the piano, but when I get a chance to sing in front of a band like that, that’s an absolute thrill,” she says.

For the concert, Garner has also invited her husband, Rick Hughes, to join her on a couple of numbers.

“I know it’s going to be a great show. The band is absolutely steaming hot, with the best players on the Island.

“So everyone is welcome to come out and join us for a great night.”


Sally Cole is a features writer with The Guardian. She welcomes comments about her column as well as suggestions for future columns from readers. She may be reached at or by phone at 629-6000, ext. 6054.

Organizations: Island Boys Little Big Band, Confederation Centre, Homburg Theatre of the Confederation Centre of the Arts The Guardian

Geographic location: P.E.I., Stratford, Charlottetown.Donna Garner Charlottetown

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