Leisa Way – Anne of Green Gables Musical lead for 6 Years in Sweet Dreams: A Tribute to Patsy Cline

Posted By KATHLEEN HAY, STANDARD-FREEHOLDER

Posted 4 days ago

It’s a phrase you usually only get to see in big city theatres: “NEW BLOCK OF TICKETS ON-SALE!”

Such was not the case this time though when the spring show, Sweet Dreams: A Tribute to Patsy Cline, resulted in seats being snapped up faster than you could say walkin’ after midnight. Originally scheduled for a run April 22-26 and May 1-3, it sold-out so quickly four more shows have been added for May 8-10.

Starring Leisa Way (who captivated Playhouse audiences in The Love List two years ago) as the legendary country singer, she’s backed-up by the Wayward Wind Band (Bruce Ley, Dave Wilson and Michael Mulrooney) who are some of this country’s finest musicians.

Way, who was raised on country music, initially began her studies at the University of Toronto’s prestigious opera school in the early 1980s. Opera at that time, however, she explains had a rather “chi-chi” reputation and when her teachers were trying to persuade her to focus solely on that genre, her natural impulse lead her elsewhere.

“I had so many different interests,” she explained from her home in Orangeville. “I wanted to sing jazz, do musical theatre. I have a big voice, but I wasn’t so sure about opera.

“I’m a lead in musical theatre, but not in opera. Still, you wonder.”

Following her heart, she successfully auditioned for the lead in Anne of Green Gables at the Charlottetown Festival. For the six next years, she travelled the globe (including six tours to Japan) performing as the red-haired girl, including performing for the British Royal Family on three occasions.

Her other musical theatre credits are no less impressive. Leading roles in productions such as Showboat, 42nd Street, Crazy for You, Cats and Camelot, have seen her travel across North America and to 50 countries worldwide.

In 1997, she was asked to perform in Drayton Entertainment’s production of A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline. She took this show as far afield as Dubai and France where the universal appeal of the country star found ready fans everywhere.

“Originally, my greatest fear was performing the role of a real person, not an imaginary character in a play,” stated Way. “I thought, ‘If I don’t nail this, people are going to know it.’

“But there’s so little live footage of her as her career was so short.”

In fact, she continues, Cline’s career really only lasted six years, from 1957-63. Her first huge hit Walkin’ After Midnight was in 1957, then there was nothing again until 1960.

“She struggled and struggled,” says Way. “So many of her songs came out posthumously following her death in ’63.”

It was this show that gave Way the momentum to create her own tribute to the singer in Sweet Dreams: The Songs of Patsy Cline. The two-hour production is set on the eve of her final concert in Kansas City before a fatal flight home during nasty rainstorm in 1963. In it, she sings 27 of Cline’s hit songs peppered in between with dialogue to give a glimpse of the singing legend.

“I thought, ‘Why don’t I research this?'”Way said. “I started gleaning information from various books, I spoke to people who had recorded her live.

“I wanted to tell Patsy’s story.” What a story it was, she added.

During that era, said Way, there were hardly any women who were headline acts, much less any who would command a Las Vegas gig for $1,000 a night. Her husband beat her, but that wasn’t talked about. Instead, Cline was always the breadwinner in her relationships.

“She was so generous,” she She would help out other singers, like Loretta Lynn, Brenda Lee and Dottie West . . . she would give the shirt off her back, and then not be able to pay her own bills.

“She paved the way for other women. I love talking about her.”

Although known for her country stylings, Cline was all-around performer.

“Patsy was the first to have a cross-over hit to pop from country,” said Way. “She played Carnegie Hall, Las Vegas . . . she was not a country singer.

“She was a singer who could sing anything.”

Way’s own performance of numbers like Crazy, Walkin’ After Midnight, Sweet Dreams, Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey, I Fall to Pieces and others have been critically hailed as a “strong clear voice and heartfelt singing to thrill any Patsy Cline fan.”

Her staggering success portraying the legendary singer inspired Way and her band to go into the studio and recapture the magic of that live performance. The CD, Sweet Dreams: The Songs of Patsy Cline, has thrilled her fans and resulted in two European tours, as well as ones to Asia and the South Pacific.

“Everything I say in the show is something Patsy said. Performing this tribute to her is an honour. I’ve been told that within five minutes, people forget and think they are at a Patsy Cline concert. That was my goal. To take them away for two hours. What better gift do you give people?” Way said.

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SWEET DREAMS:A TRIBUTE TO PATSY CLINE

WHAT:Musical theatre sensation Leisa Way takes you on a two-hour journey of the late singer’s life that’s filled with hit songs and insight into what made Patsy Cline such a special person.

WHEN:May 8 to 10, in addition to previous sold-out dates of April 22- 26 and May 1-3.

WHERE:Upper Canada Playhouse, Morrisburg.

COST:$28 (adults); $24 seniors (60 and up)/students. Groups of 10 or more are $23 per person. To book tickets, call 613-543-3713.

SHOW TIMES:May 8 and 9 at 8 p. m., plus 2 p. m. matinees on May 9 and 10.