MORRISBURG – “The theatre will be filled with music,” said Jesse Collins, creator of ‘The Eagles and Linda Ronstadt,’ the new show which just premiered at Upper Canada Playhouse on Tuesday, October 18. “A whole era will be coming back to life on the Playhouse stage. We cover a lot of musical ground with this show – and we are having a ball.”
Jesse Collins, who created the hit ‘Dean & Jerry: What Might Have Been,’ is back at the Playhouse with a show which artistic director, Donnie Bowes, says will “recreate the hits and tell some of the stories of how these powerhouse acts started together and branched out to create the sound known as country-rock. Their career highlights are intertwined in this two-act show, covering hits and tales of their escapades and history.”
I had the opportunity to talk to Jesse, actor/director/writer, about his exciting new production.
“My very first live concert was back in 1978,” Jesse said. “On stage were the Eagles, the Little River Band and Eddie Money, and the excitement and memory of that wonderful concert never left me over all these years. And maybe that’s really where the idea for this show came from. The extraordinary thing is that the musicians who became the Eagles didn’t know each other, had never worked together, and were essentially a back-up band put together for singer Linda Ronstadt. Music was changing in the 70s and so was its Mecca. Once New York had been the place for new sounds, but now it was Los Angeles. This was the era where the notion of a singer-songwriter first took root.”
In 1971, Linda Ronstadt had a new manager, and was very slowly starting to make a name for herself. Glenn Frey and Don Henley were basically itinerant musicians who had ended up in LA, looking for work. They landed jobs as part of her back-up stage band.
“During those two months they backed up Linda, Don and Glenn started jamming together and ultimately realized they were musically ‘sympatico,’” Jesse explained. “Finally they approached Linda and said they wanted to try and make a go of it on their own. Far from being outraged and furious, Linda, good, kind person that she was, let them go. She even introduced them to Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon.” Don and Glenn did a last concert with her, not in some big arena, but actually in a kind of Disneyland bandshell, a sort of graduation concert for high school kids, and then they walked off and the Eagles were born. “In five years, they were a world-wide phenomenon.”
Linda’s career moved more slowly, but eventually she broke into the big time with the hit ‘Heart Like A Wheel.’ She had been very “country” at one point, but she was actively involved in the business of her career, refusing to just stand on stage and sing what others told her to. Her music ranged from show music to rock. “She invented herself over and over: to do her justice, I would have to do nine shows,” Jesse said. “I can’t think of another artist who has moved so effortlessly through all those musical worlds.”
Even at the top of the rock world, (“from huge concerts to tossing TVs out of hotel windows”), Glen Frey said, virtually every time he was interviewed, that there was no one more responsible for the Eagles than Linda. “He always had an enormous gratitude towards her.”
Collins’ ‘The Eagles and Linda Rondstadt’ is built around these “rich characters. The show has a simple narrative, mostly focussing on the 70s, giving context to the music, but we want the audience to feel something as they see and hear these incredible performers. We need to remind ourselves of, and to sense, the humanity of these artists.”
A powerhouse of a cast will bring Linda and the Eagles to musical life in this new show. Taking the leads will be Karen Coughlin, who has appeared in hit productions ranging from ‘Guys & Dolls’ to ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dream Coat,’ and Jay Davis, whose musical credits include ‘Jesus Christ Super Star’ and ‘Dear Evan Hanson.’ Joining them on the stage will be multi-talented musicians Glenn Bladon, John Minnis, Rich Levesque and Bob Gasson.
“Karen and Jay, two of Canada’s most amazing performers, are a powerful, fantastic combination,” said author/director Jesse Collins. “For me, this show was best told through songs. Because those songs really tell you what and who these artists were at key points in their lives. And the theatre will be filled with that incredible music.”
The show runs October 18-30.