MORRISBURG – “Before Elvis there was nothing. After Elvis, Rock’n Roll was here to stay.” – John Lennon.
Leisa Way and the Wayward Wind Band’s brand new tribute to the classic music of Rock’n Roll packed Upper Canada Playhouse for the show’s entire run. Judging by the sell-out crowds singing and literally dancing in the aisles, it was easy to see why.
From Buddy Holly to The Who, from Carly Simon to Grace Slick, this exuberant premiere production took audiences on a “magical, mystical”, musical journey through the greats, the artists who gave us some of the finest and most memorable music of the 20th (and 21st!) centuries.
Leisa Way’s Rock’n Roll is Here to Stay, which ran at the Playhouse from October 15-24, provided two hours of terrific entertainment.
In an earlier interview, creator Leisa Way described this new production as a labour of love. “All the music is great. Frankly, it was a challenge to get our choices down to the 26 songs we have included, and some of those are medleys.”
With a voice that ranges several octaves, and the ability to deliver on numbers as musically diverse as “Proud Mary”, “You’re So Vain” and “Natural Woman”, Leisa Way continues to be a singing dynamo. Her passion for music is contagious. Her energy on stage is boundless: the audience took her to heart from the moment she invited them to “The Hop.”
Way’s trademark costumes and wigs (donned at record speed over the course of the entire concert), gave a sense of each of the decades the show spanned. She took us through some 40 years of music and some 40 years of rock fashion: Poodle Skirts and page boys gave way to glitter, fringe, head bands, minis and go-go boots. (It was definitely a trip down memory’s fashion lane!)
Throughout the concert, the performers shared anecdotes and “behind the scenes” stories about some of those great Rock n Roll artists and their music.
There was ironic humour in several of the stories, like Stevie Nicks’ advice to young women singers: “Save your money. You’re going to need it for rehab,” and Billy Joel’s comment, “I’m on my fourth wife now – and may the fourth be with me.”
The music and the songs just kept on coming all night.
Sharing centre stage throughout Leisa Way’s Rock’n Roll is Here to Stay (and proving over and over again, just what superb musicians they all are), were the multi-talented members of the Wayward Wind Band.
Bruce Ley, the show’s musical director and pianist, produced consistently exciting arrangements of the numbers for the performers: tricky medleys (like the Beatles 60s hits or the best of BTO) segued seamlessly together.
Veteran Fred Smith on guitar literally blew the roof off on more than one occasion with his interpretations of classic rock riffs: Fellow veteran Bobby Prochaska, bringing his bass to powerful life, drew cheers and shouts: returning musician Don Reid’s drumsticks were tirelessly flying (audiences love a drummer): newest band member Liam Collins certainly earned his chops on vocals, piano and guitar – and in his dance moves. (Keep right on strutting, ‘Elvis’ and ‘Mick!’)
And it goes almost without saying that every one of these gentlemen can sing.
In fact, that’s something of an understatement.
Soloing on classic numbers, or harmonizing to “What would I be without you,” Fred, Bruce, Bobby, Liam and Don made the challenges of presenting 40 years of diverse rock seem easy – and a lot of fun.
Leisa Way’s Rock’n Roll is Here to Stay clearly resonated with Playhouse audiences. They clapped and stamped their feet, joined in on the choruses of certain pieces, and, when invited to by Leisa, during Chubby Checkers’ Twist, they jumped up and really “shook their booties.”
Leisa Way’s Rock’n Roll is Here to Stay was a huge, well-deserved hit at Upper Canada Playhouse.
In a concert packed wall to wall with unforgettable music, I suspect that more than one sedate lady rediscovered that screaming teenage girl inside, while a lot of white-haired men may have found themselves ‘born to be wild,’ one more time.
In a finale that brought the audience cheering to its feet, Leisa Way and the Wayward Wind Band proved, in this exciting new musical production, that everyone just “wants to Rock’n Roll all night…”