Len­nie Gallant’s Abeg­weit sails again

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - ENTERTAINMENT - Todd Ma­cLean is a lo­cal free­lance writer and mu­si­cian. If you have a com­ment or sug­ges­tion for a re­view, you can get in touch with him at tmaclean@the­guardian.pe.ca or at 626-1242. But he won’t be of­fended if you don’t.

With 57 sold-out shows in its inau­gu­ral Char­lot­te­town Fes­ti­val run last year, “Search­ing for Abeg­weit: the Is­land Songs and Sto­ries of Len­nie Gallant” was def­i­nitely one of the big suc­cess sto­ries of the 2014 Is­land theatre scene.

Spring-board­ing from these heights to now land the show in its brand new home at the P.E.I. Brew­ing Com­pany in Char­lot­te­town, Gallant sets Abeg­weit sail­ing once again this sea­son — show­ing ev­ery Mon­day, Tues­day and Wed­nes­day this sum­mer.

Pre­sented within the large and spa­tially-pli­able P.E.I. Brew­ing Com­pany Culi­nary Event Space, the show cer­tainly boasts a unique venue as a selling point as most at­ten­dees will un­doubt­edly en­joy rev­el­ling in the ex­pe­ri­ence of tak­ing in a night of Is­land mu­sic in a brew­ery. But the space is also made to look more el­e­gant than one might imag­ine, com­plete with chan­de­liers over wel­com­ing round cabaret-style ta­bles.

Rus­tic wood fram­ing and oak casks flank the stage, as a huge pro­jec­tor screen is the back­drop for the pre­sen­ta­tion, where both his­tor­i­cal and re­cent P.E.I. im­ages are dis­played through­out the show, along with the com­pelling song-ac­com­pa­ny­ing paint­ings by Gallant’s sis­ter, Karen Gallant.

It was last week’s preview that I caught, as the show was un­veiled for a crowd that was high in num­bers for a preview per­for­mance and high in en­thu­si­asm to see the show’s new 2015 in­car­na­tion.

“Abeg­weit, when I hear your lul­laby, I know where I be­long,” sang Gallant in an im­pas­sioned vo­cal de­liv­ery over the strum­ming of an acous­tic guitar as those cen­tre­piece lyrics from one of his en­gag­ing Is­landtribute open­ing num­bers seemed to en­cap­su­late the spirit of the show im­me­di­ately for us.

Backed up by the great ac­com­pa­ni­ment work by Sean Kemp on vi­o­lin (who has been at Gallant’s side for over 12 years), his neph­ews Jonathan Gallant (per­cus­sion) and Jeremy Gallant (pi­ano) and, new to the show this year, Pa­tri­cia Richard on man­dolin and vo­cals, the sound­scape was full and vi­brant from the get-go and on­ward through­out the night.

With first-half high­lights that in­cluded Back to Rus­tico (the show’s opener), Which Way Does the River Run, Open Win­dow, The Coun­try Store, Lord Selkirk’s Land, Tales of the Phan­tom Ship and Peter’s Dream, the lineup of songs was ev­i­dently stacked with many a Gallant hit — en­hanced in most cases by the scenes wo­ven with im­ages on the back­drop and the high­en­ergy live de­liv­ery by the quin­tet of mu­si­cians.

What is par­tic­u­larly no­table about Search­ing for Abeg­weit, though, is one pri­mary no­tion that threads through all of the show’s mu­si­cal fab­ric: love for the Is­land home­land.

This sen­ti­ment is so gen­uinely, so proudly, so hon­estly ex­pressed at so many points in the two-hour pre­sen­ta­tion that the over­whelm­ing feel­ing with which one in­evitably leaves this show is just ex­actly this: love for P.E.I.

I be­lieve that this as­pect, com­bined with Gallant’s mu­si­cal­ity in per­for­mance that is still glow­ing in its top-notch cal­iber, is a key rea­son the show fared so well at the box of­fice last sum­mer and why it will most likely suc­ceed in sim­i­lar ways in its new home this year.

And with a sec­ond half that in­cluded num­bers like Tell Me a Ghost Story, Nel­lie J. Banks, The Band Played On, and the emo­tion-driven star­ring-role song called Search­ing for Abeg­weit (which re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion at its end), the show was sim­ply an Is­land heart-soar­ing de­light to take in.

“Search­ing for Abeg­weit: the Is­land Songs and Sto­ries of Len­nie Gallant” plays each week through to the end of Au­gust. For tick­ets, visit www.peibrew­ing­com­pany.com or call 902629-2739.

Next week: The Cavendish Beach Mu­sic Fes­ti­val.

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