– You might not see yourself as a big time fan of country music, but Leisa Way’s new production, Country Jukebox, making its debut at Upper Canada Playhouse, will surely go a long way to converting you.
The show bursts from the gate with the Country Jukebox ‘overture’ and hits the ground running.
“My heart ain’t ready for the Rollin’ Stones/I don’t feel like rocking since my baby’s gone/Don’t rock the jukebox/Play me a country song..”
Backed up by the incredible Wayward Wind band, Dave Wilson, Kim Ratcliffe and Bruce Ley, and supported on lead vocals by Aaron Solomon and Randall Kempf (whose individual and collective talents are stunning) singer Leisa Way delivers a show for all musical tastes.
The traditional harmonies of country artists like Loretta Lynn and Reba McIntyre are balanced by cross-over modern artists like LeAnn Rimes and Lady Antebellum. Way’s show, as she explained in an earlier interview with the Leader, is primarily designed around duets, country music match-ups that are considered gold standards.
Tammy Wynette and George Jones, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge, among others, were featured artists. Bruce Ley, who arranged the music for Country Jukebox, has orchestrated some wonderful medleys blending these artists’ singles and duets. Way, Solomon and Kempf segued effortlessly from one piece to another to deserved applause.
I particularly enjoyed the Dottie West/Kim Carnes set which included “Till I Can Make It On My Own”, and “Don’t Fall in Love with a Dream”, among others. Could just be the romantic in me, of course, but as Way said at one point, music like this reflects “a true love story, true country magic.”
Seldom off the stage (except for some striking costume changes) during the entire concert, Way is the exuberant focal point of Country Jukebox.
Her singing voice is a powerful and versatile instrument. Whether she is singing alone on stage, or harmonizing with Solomon and Kempf, her range and energy are phenomenal.
Because she and Solomon and Kempf have worked together before, there is a musical easiness among them as they sing. They seem to be having a great time.
And when the spotlight solos in on Solomon and Kempf, these two deliver.
Randall Kempf, (who really does resemble Willie Nelson), delivered a rousing rendition of “The Gambler” at one point that had the audience cheering. And Aaron Solomon, ‘knocked ‘em dead’ when he and his fiddle roared into ‘Orange Blossom Special’. As Leisa said earlier, the man also “sings like an angel.”
Way showcases the individual members of her band throughout the production. Was there anyone whose foot wasn’t tapping when the five men burst into a boisterous “Elvira’?
You can’t get better performers than these musicians anywhere.
Way’s Country Jukebox is upbeat, humourous and musically, a knockout. However, this is a very new show: as with any new venture, it is still undergoing some growing pains in terms of length and editing.
Way makes it clear that what matters most in her show is the music: she, and the artists sharing the spotlight with her, let that music speak for itself.
By the way, this show already had me hooked, but when it ended with Roy and Dale, well, all I can say is, what could have been more perfect?
Country Jukebox is only at Upper Canada Playhouse until May 13. Contact the box office at 613-543-3713 for tickets.