Leisa Way is completely unabashed about her feelings for Canada.
“We are the greatest country in the world. This is a simply a fantastic place to live. And we really are a nation of caring. I’ve travelled all around the world as an entertainer, and I’ve found that other countries absolutely embrace Canada.”
So it should come as no surprise that Way is throwing those sentiments, and her renowned talents as a singer, an actor and a producer, into the new show which will open the Upper Canada Playhouse 2015 season. The premiere of Oh, Canada, We Sing For Thee, is a celebration of Canadian music and Canadian artists through the last six decades. From Paul Anka to Bachman Turner Overdrive, from Buffy Sainte-Marie to Gordon Lightfoot, from Leonard Cohen to Michael Buble, Leisa Way and her fantastic Wayward Wind band are drawing from a rich heritage of Canadiana. And with Canada’s 150th anniversary a bare two years away, Oh, Canada, We Sing For Thee, has a very timely air about it.
“Upper Canada Playhouse is clearly way ahead of the curve,” Way laughed. “With all the celebrations coming up in 2017, everyone is going to be incredibly proud to be a Canadian, and we are excited to be part of that energy with this new show.”
Leisa Way is no stranger to the work involved in mounting a major musical, and no stranger to audiences at Upper Canada Playhouse. She brought Sweet Dreams (Patsy Cline), Rhinestone Cowgirl (Dolly Parton), Country Jukebox and Wichita Lineman (Glen Campbell) to the Playhouse, playing to packed houses and rave reviews. For Oh, Canada, she has researched the musicians and the music of nearly 60 artists, the events and the passions that inspired their work. “I love this kind of research,” Way said, “finding meaningful information about a writer and artist to use in creating the show. The biggest challenge for me is finally having to cut some great music.”
This exciting new show looks at Canadian artists “that people will know and enjoy”, loosely fitting the music into several ‘themes’. The rock n’ roll segment will feature Paul Anka, the first Canadian ever to have a number one hit on the R&R charts, and groups who heavily influenced the rock n’ roll scene like the Four Lads and the Crew Cuts. Folk is reflected in the work of Ian & Sylvia, Gordon Lightfoot and Joni Mitchell. When it came to rock, “I decided to ask some ‘authorities’,” Way laughed, “Norm Foster (who was a radio host), my husband David, and my mother. They gave me ideas about the iconic rock stars and bands. Basically, if they knew a song and loved it, it’s in the show.”
“We perform a couple of medleys,” Way explained, “but I tend to like to hear an entire song, so I emphasize that approach in the show. Keeping it to one song an artist was a real challenge.” She is backed, in this production, by some of Canada’s current top musicians. Nathan Smith, Bobby Prochaska, Fred Smith, Bruce Ley and Sam Cino lend their incredible instrumentation and voices to Oh , Canada, We Sing For Thee.
When I asked Leisa Way where the inspiration for this new production came from, she immediately responded, “From Donnie Bowes. He was the person who inspired me to create Patsy and Dolly, Country Jukebox and Wichita Lineman. His faith and belief in me inspired me to tackle this production as well. He basically said to me, what about a show that celebrates Canadian music and musicians? Donnie Bowes and the venue at Upper Canada Playhouse are the big draws for me. He’s the reason that I feel I have been able to create concerts that entertain and uplift.”
Currently the show is rehearsing at Theatre Orangeville, but is due to transfer to the Playhouse the first of next week. The show runs April 21-25.
“With Oh, Canada, We Sing For Thee,” Leisa Way said, “I believe we are giving people entertainment that reflects us as a nation and proudly tells our stories.”
For information and tickets contact Upper Canada Playhouse at 1-613-543-3713.