Together, they’ve performed for the Queen, for the Kennedys, alongside Chuck Berry and the Supremes and as openers for the Rolling Stones.
Now, this accomplished group of musicians is touring the country and playing classics spanning several genres from Canadian musicians throughout the years.
The show is called Oh, Canada, We Sing for Thee, and it’s hitting the Rawlinson Centre stage Monday.
“We’re doing a 28-city tour right across Canada from Vancouver Island all the way to Glace Bay,” said executive producer and performer Leisa Way.
“It’s a show that celebrates all the best of Canadian music and songwriters. It’s really amazing because the audience knows just about every song in the show, and they sing along from pop and rock and folk and country. It’s a little bit of everything. Everybody’s favourite artists.”
Way is no stranger to the stage herself.
She got her start as a teen when she crashed an audition for Anne of Green Gables. She landed the lead role in the musical — the longest running in Canada. She played that role for six years. From there, Way launched a career that saw her perform in 60 countries, and sing for the Queen many times, Terry Fox, Wayne Gretzky and the Kennedy Family.
“I had all these wonderful opportunities come my way,” she said.
As Way’s career progressed, it became less about just accepting whatever show came her way, and more about balancing her professional life with her personal life.
“I started writing my own shows,” Way said. “I wish I’d done it years ago, but I didn’t have the experience.”
Way also enjoys choosing her material. She likes putting smiles on people’s faces with positive, upbeat performances. Before she was writing and producing, some of her roles were in sad stories.
“I’m writing these shows that make my audiences happy,” Way said.
“At this point in my career it’s a gift to me. Every time I’m onstage and feel from an audience that they’re enjoying and having so much fun. That’s my gift.”
The Canada-themed show came together a few years ago. The prospect of Canada 150 wasn’t even on Way’s mind.
She had assembled this talented group of musicians when it was suggested they should take a look at some Canadian classics.
“I have incredible musicians with me that I handpicked,” Way said. “Not only are they fantastic musicians, they are solo artists and singers on their own, so they can carry the show singing and playing.”
The guitarist has played backup for Vince Gill, the Supremes and Chuck Berry. The arranger and pianist has opened for the Rolling Stones, and was a pianist on the Tommy Hunter Show.
“He was a studio player for many, many years,” Way said. “This is his first time touring the country. He’s almost 70 years old and he’s amazing. He’s having more fun than anybody else on the tour.”
About two years ago a director Way had worked with on previous shows suggested the Canadian concert.
“I wrote it and it debuted near Ottawa, which was kind of cool,” Way said. “It was the audience reaction that was so overwhelming. They all said ‘Canada 150 is coming up, I hope you’re taking this across the country.’”
Audience feedback in hand, Way went to work planning the tour. It took 18 months of planning, contacting venues and getting the word out. Eventually, Way had more interested venues than she could accommodate. But she wanted to make sure she didn’t just hit the big cities.
“I come from a small town, and I know that a lot of smaller communities don’t get to see some of the big shows that come through,” she said.
“I wanted this show to go everywhere, so that people would have a chance to see it. It’s the kind of show that makes everyone proud.”
While the show features the music of some big Canadian names, such as Gordon Lightfood, Paul Anka, Celine Dion, Michael Bublé, the Guess Who and Steppenwolf, it’s not just a collection of music. Way wanted to include stories about each of the artists to tie the show together.
“Our shows are very theatrical,” Way said. “I come from a theatrical background. I researched every artist, things about their life, and found stories of what happened in their lives when they were writing that song. My shows are not thrown together. There was about six months of research before I wrote the show.”
So far, it has been a hit with audiences.
“People walk away with these little tidbits, thinking ‘oh my gosh, I had no idea,’ or ‘I’d forgotten that,’” Way said.
“Canadians have a lot to be proud of, besides music. It’s a real party and celebration of Canada.”
The show starts Monday, October 9 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25, and available through the Rawlinson Centre box office, online, or by calling 306765-1270.
The cast of Oh Canada, We Sing for Thee, a show coming to the Rawlinson Centre Monday.