–Barely 10 minutes into the Friday night performance of Upper Canada Playhouse’s production of Leisa Way’s Oh, Canada, We Sing For Thee, audience members, of all ages, were spontaneously applauding and cheering.
That initial level of enthusiasm and delight never let up for the entire two hours.
When Leisa Way, Nathan Smith, Bobby Prochaska, Fred Smith, Bruce Ley and Sam Cino took their final bows, for many in the audience, the only disappointing thing about this exhilarating premiere was that they weren’t going to be able to buy new tickets at the Playhouse and see it again.
It was a memorable production, running April 21-25, opening the Playhouse summer season.
Leisa Way, who has gained popular and critical celebrity for her shows such as Sweet Dreams, Rhinestone Cowgirl and Country Jukebox, described the inspiration for this, her newest production, in an April 15 interview with the Leader. “We are the greatest country in the world. This is simply a fantastic place to live. 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.”
The appeal of this show is patriotic, yes, but that alone wouldn’t be enough to capture audiences so completely. It’s the music that inspires them: that terrific music. Canadians tend to forget sometimes just how good our composers and singers really are, and how much they have influenced music world wide. Oh, Canada, We Sing For Thee, exuberantly reminds them.
From the 50s songs, Little Darlin’, and a boisterous Life Could Be a Dream, to the breath-taking modern duet between Way and Prochaska of David Foster’s Let This Be Our Prayer, the production showcased an extraordinary range of music. Toes tapped to classic Habitant fiddle pieces and modern French-Canadian chansons, hands clapped to a heavy metal, rock medley that included Takin’ Care of Business and Born to Be Wild, and there was more than one misty pair of eyes during the singers’ beautiful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.
Leisa Way is a dynamic, versatile singer. Able to country swing in Shania Twain’s comic Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under? move us with Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Until It’s Time for You To Go, and cheerily channel Anne Murray, Way’s vocal range is exceptional. Along the way the artist shared anecdotes and side stories with the audience about some of the artists and the music they wrote. “Music,” she pointed out, “is the most popular language in the world.”
The Wayward Wind Band and the musicians joining Way in this production were outstanding. Sam Cino, Nathan Smith, Bobby Prochaska, Fred Smith and Bruce Ley were unquestioned instrumental masters. And their vocal work, singly, but especially in a cappella numbers like Northwest Passage and The Lion Sleeps Tonight, elated every listener.
Quick comic asides throughout the show, (“Canada is the only nation where you can wear shorts and a parka at the same time!”), a reprise of the classic “Canadian Rant,’ and Stompin’ Tom Connors’ ever popular Good Old Hockey Game continually reminded the crowd that yes, Canadians do have a great sense of humour along with their gift of music.
Oh, Canada, We Sing For Thee’s powerful finale which began with Gordon Lightfoot’s wonderful Railroad Trilogy and ended with everyone on their feet for O Canada, was breath-taking.
This show is a terrific musical celebration of the Great White North, one that audiences will love.
After attending this production, did people leave Upper Canada Playhouse proud to be Canadians? You can bet your maple leaves they did.