Country Jukebox debuts at Upper Canada Playhouse


– You won’t have to look any farther this spring than Upper Canada Playhouse in Morrisburg to enjoy some of the greatest country music north of Nashville. 

The phenomenal Leisa Way and her Wayward Wind Band are premiering an incredible country music extravaganza, Country Jukebox,  opening May 2, running until May 13.

Artistic director Donnie Bowes  describes this all new production as “packed with fabulous music from everyone’s favourite singers. There’s such a variety of hit songs it’s hard to know where to start.”

I had an opportunity to talk to Leisa Way, now deep into final rehearsals for the show, about Country Jukebox.

“Country music is the most popular music in the world,” Way said, “and there is a very good reason for that. Everyone can relate to the stories and to the emotions that pour out of the songs and the songwriters. The old stereotype, that country is something like “my dog died” or my “man’s bad”, that’s really not the case any more. There’s heart and soul in this music.”

Way, who starred in two previous hit shows at Upper Canada Playhouse, one based on the life and times of Patsy Cline, the other on Dolly Parton, has done a lot of research into the artists represented in her new production. 

“The songs I’ve chosen, from artists like Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, Shania Twain, Kris Kristofferson, among a host of others, are strongly focussed on the great duet partnerships that have become a real force in country and western music,” she explained. 

“It was challenging researching into the singers’ lives, looking for what was influencing them, happening to them, when their music was written. As Tammy Wynette once said ‘It’s so much easier to sing a song with heart and soul when you write it yourself.’”

Herself a star of traditional musical theatre, a singer who has performed three times for the British royal family, a much sought after artist at theatres across North America,  Way said that creating Country Jukebox was a “return to my own roots.”

“I love all kinds of music. When I discovered jazz, it became a passion,” she said. (Way is currently writing a show based on the great Peggy Lee). But I was raised on country. And frankly, you just can’t stereotype country. Waylon Jennings put it this way: ‘Country music and the blues are close, close relatives. They’re singing the same song about good and bad times, a woman he’s got, a woman he wants, and one he can’t get rid of’.”

The songs featured in Country Jukebox, many of them duets,  will reflect an extraordinary range of  well known singers.

“We include a section on the Outlaw Cowboys, as they were called, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and of course, Jennings,” Way said.  “They didn’t care what anyone thought about the way they approached country music. They used different instrumentations; they had a very different outlook on what was country. They were often also good timing men with incredible women supporting them, backing them up. These relationships evolved into duets that have lasted. People really relate to them.”

Way will be backed up by some pretty extraordinary talent herself when she comes to the Playhouse.

She will be joined by renowned musicians Bruce Ley, Dave Wilson and Kim Radcliffe. Also playing in the Wayward Wind band, and singing many of the duets with Way will be Aaron Solomon and Randall Kempf.

Solomon, who starred in UCP’s production of Johnny and June “sings like an angel,” Way said. “His voice is beautiful, with a wide range.”

“Randall has a crustier, rich voice, and is fantastic on intricate harmony.”

Why is she debuting Country Jukebox at Upper Canada Playhouse?

“We love Donnie, the Playhouse staff, the incredible audiences that come to this theatre,” Way explained. “Donnie said to me, if you write this show, I will premier it for you,  which was an incredible offer. As performers, when we get a chance to sing before a warm, inviting audience, it’s simply a joy. There is just something incredibly special about Upper Canada Playhouse.”

Tickets for Country Jukebox are available at Upper Canada Playhouse by calling 613-543-3713 or 1-877-550-3650.

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