Lennie Gallant’s Abegweit sails again
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.