Musical premiere: Across the Pond opens at UCP

MORRISBURG – “I think the audience will be totally caught up in the music and in the sounds. For people who know the British Invasion music, it will bring back memories. People who weren’t around at the time will make new memories,” said singer/writer, Leisa Way.

Leisa Way and her amazing Lonely Hearts Club Band are bringing a brand new musical production to Upper Canada Playhouse. Across the Pond premieres on Tuesday, April 25, and will run until April 30.

Artistic director of the Playhouse, Donnie Bowes, describes Across the Pond this way.

“The Playhouse has debuted many of Leisa Way’s concerts that have gone on to great success. Audiences can always expect to be entertained by an astounding number of hit tunes from a vast array of artists. And they can also expect some of the most talented musicians in the country.”

From the Beatles, to the Troggs, to the Kinks, from Sting to Elton John, Lulu and Shirley Bassey, the musical British beat goes on.

I asked Leisa how the idea for a show based on the influence of British music in North America developed.

“The music of Britain exploded into Canada in the 1960s,” she explained. “I remember listening to the LPs as a child and actually singing ‘Hey Jude’ when I was just past two. I grew up on stories of the 60s, even recalling how mom and dad were afraid of those ‘long haired hippies and those crazy rock bands’. When I talked the concept of this show over with Donnie, he was incredibly supportive.

Elvis had left the stage to go into the army in the early 60s, and Buddy Holly was dead. This left a kind of gap in the music scene. When Ed Sullivan began featuring British performers on his show, the sound took off.”

The research for the show was fascinating.

“I had always known the music, but now I also knew the background of the singers and of the songs.”

One of the biggest challenges in creating the production, Across the Pond, was narrowing down which music to actually include in a two hour show.

“I went directly to Norm Foster – Mr Music! – who used to be a disc jockey,” Leisa laughed. “And I also consulted my husband David. I had them put together lists of their absolute favourite songs, compared them, and pulled the top 15 off each list.”

Of course, it was impossible, in a show like this to “do” every favourite song. The show features medleys of the music that made some singers memorable.

One particularly exciting medley is based on the theme music written around 007.

“I love interpreting the classic Shirley Bassey rendition of ‘Goldfinger’ from the movie.” Leisa said.

Way’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is made up of outstanding instrumentalists and singers in their own right.

“We’ve been rehearsing since February, and Bruce (Ley) and I have been developing the arrangements and sorting through the melodies. Most singers were a great deal  more than just “pop” stars. Often their music was actually complex.

There was an incredible mixture of raw talent and genius in the works of Paul McCartney and John Lennon.

There were also critical classical influences that we bring out in the show in numbers like ‘Stairway to Heaven.’”

Way, whose O Canada We Sing For Thee debuted at UCP in 2015, (and is now booked into over 80 venues across Canada this year) is looking forward to returning to Morrisburg with her new show.

“It’s just so exciting to be staging the Across the Pond premiere at the Playhouse,” said Leisa Way.

“We all feel like family at the Playhouse.”

For tickets and information contact Upper Canada Playhouse at 613-543-3713.