Tonight we went to see, “If It’s All Right With You,” a tribute to the life and music of the legendary Gene MacLellan.
The show was written and performed by his daughter,
Catherine MacLellan, who has achieved notable stature as a singer and songwriter. She weaves the narrative of Gene MacLellan’s life and his struggle with bipolar disorder around many of his best-loved songs. And what a compelling story it is. She traces his life, from his childhood illnesses through the checkered development of his career, with love and compassion and she doesn’t hold back on the dark times.
Gene MacLellan became a reluctant icon in Canadian folk music. His life was marked by a constant restlessness and the quest for peace. Catherine shares stories of the good times when he played with his three children and filled their home with laughter and song. She talks about a period of his life unknown to most of us, the years when he left the music business behind to do prison ministry, taking a message of love and hope to inmates.
Then there were the times when he slipped into despair. Near the end of his life, he was a shadow of the young, talented troubadour whose songs were covered by Elvis Presley, Perry Como, Glen Campbell, and other musical giants of the day. Catherine, the youngest of three children, was only fourteen on that day in January 1995, when Gene MacLellan died by suicide, never having had a truly effective treatment for his disease.
Catherine ends her narrative with honest, straightforward words about her own struggle with depression and a message of hope and support to those who live with the black dog.
The story is compelling, but it is the music that gives us the most intimate glimpse into the heart and soul of Gene MacLellan. To hear his lyrics and melodies interpreted by his daughter and the stellar musicians in the band is a delight.
The show’s director, John Connolly, also performs in the show, on piano, guitar, and vocals, his voice blending with Catherine’s in a way that breathes new life into the songs. Chris Gauthier is brilliant on electric and acoustic guitar. He and bassist, Rémi Arsenault, also do an impressive job on back-up vocals, while Dale Desroches provides a steady undercurrent on drums.
“If It’s All Right With You” is a fabulous show that I found uplifting, despite the sadness and struggle with mental illness that marked the life of this remarkable man and ended it much too soon. The musical legacy he has left us is a gift of the highest order. The value of the gift his daughter gives in telling his story is immeasurable.