Word of mouth is surely the best way to promote your wares around here, and I can't think of a show that has been more of a mouthful over the past year than that ode to all-things-us playing at the Mack.
Come-All-Ye seems like an easy sell on paper — round up six popular Island performers and put them on a nice stage. The ambitious scope of the production, however, with its many different elements, surely made for a complicated and intricate quilting bee — one which, in the end, has created something cozy and warm and unique.
The cabaret seating was pushed to its logistic limits on opening night, with necks craned and knees touching. No discomfort was felt, though. Just as everyone gravitates to the kitchen at a family gathering to rest half a cheek on a piece of countertop, the audience was delighted to be part of the intimacy.
The brainchild of director Wade Lynch and cast members John Connolly and Patrick Ledwell, Come-All-Ye is a music and storytelling concoction, steeped in Island revelry. Inside jokes abound, our quirks are prodded and analyzed with an almost scientific rigour, yet, still, a romanticism is allowed to envelope the whole thing.
Musical director Connolly continues to demonstrate a thoughtful and mature artistic vision in the captain's seat. He ably shouldered the musical director role for the magical Gene MacLellan tribute this past winter, continues to build his personal songwriting catalogue and has been honing his big theatre producing chops, too.
For this show, Connolly has developed arrangements that are polished, sympathetic to the originals, yet still allow for a communal, sing-along feel.
Between songs, Ledwell works a bumper crop of material. He has recently published a book, I am an Islander, teeming with keen observations, and endlessly readable. On stage, he exaggerates a silly, gangly physicality and folksy excitedness, almost belying his precise wit and phrasing. Some older, well-tested material is served, along with plenty of new observations for the audience to chew on. A pro/con comparison skit is ruthlessly exact. And a bit about the ferry takes a beautiful, poignant turn. Always, there's a sincere love for language guiding his delivery.
The rest of the cast are equally generous hosts. Caroline Bernard shares her powerful voice, sweet, strong and animated, and shows deftness on the keys. Ashley Condon brings a classic country voice, harmonies that would be at home on any of your favourite old vinyl. Mark Haines has an engaging presence, excellent musicianship and a musical style that at once seems so familiar, but completely his own. And Chas Guay anchors it all with tone-savvy bass, giving the vessel enough slack to leisurely sway in the harbour.
Throughout the melange of song and story, short interview clips and a slideshow of nostalgia drenched photos, courtesy of Dutch Thompson, play backdrop to the whole evening.
All cast members are in demand, and constantly busy with their own passion projects, so it's a real treat to be able wrangle them in for what will no doubt be one of the most popular shows of the season.
Lennie MacPherson, a Charlottetown-based writer, actor and musician, writes theatre reviews for The Guardian during the summer months. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.