Early Morning Rain: Gordon Lightfoot’s legend brought to life

February 27, 2020   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

Early Morning Rain, The Legend of Gordon Lightfoot, a concert of Gordon Lightfoot’s songs and the stories about his life, so far, is playing at Theatre Orangeville until March 1. This is Leisa Way’s 12th creation of songs and stories about celebrities she admires, from individuals to the several within whole music genres, and it may be her best. 

It is her most heartfelt, of that we are certain.

With her, all the way in enthusiasm and shared vision, are Bobby Prochaska, vocals and guitar; Fred Smith, vocals, guitar, banjo, mandolin; Liam Collins, vocal and guitar; Bruce Ley, who arranges the music and is Music Director and Don Reid, sometime crazy man on the drums.

It all begins at the beginning of Gordon Lightfoot’s musical life, at the age of five and his go-and-stop and go-again rise to fame and fortune, as one of the most prolific and well-known Canadian singer- song writers. Leisa Way and three of her band bounce those early day accounts back and forth, along with songs of those years. It is an interesting time, lots of laughs and songs you will remember so well – some you may have never heard. 

It is a love fest too, keeping in mind that Mr. Lightfoot, at a still energetic 80, continues to tour and is finishing his latest studio album, called Solo.

The audience was a full house of people of all ages who know him from long ago to lately and were frequently, irresistibly, singing along to many of the songs. As the concert goes on, each of the solo performances is taken on by one and the other, including Ms. Way, in a format that is beautifully artistic and keeps up the energy, the stories moving and is fascinating.

Fascinating – yes – because she has taken a few of those songs and, presenting her ideas on re-modelling, as one might say, to Bruce Ley’s powers of arranging all that she envisioned, and we all have a wonderful time. She even brings the disco ball into play.

For her own part, Ms. Way’s love affair with the Lightfoot stories in song began with his Second Cup of Tea. 

She told us, “I used to drive up to the cottage with my parents in those days before – you know – seat belts. They played Gordon Lightfoot songs all the way up and I would stand at the back between the two front seats and belt out Second Cup of Tea. That’s was my introduction to Gordon Lightfoot and I have admired him ever since.”

What Ms. Way was meaning in part, is that Mr. Lightfoot can take a tragic or sad moment and make a song that is often quite upbeat. Second Cup of Tea is an example of that.

He also took the poorly reported, as he saw it, news about the sinking of a freighter in 500 feet of water on Lake Gitche Gumee (Lake Superior) and wrote the song, The Edmund Fitzgerald. Twenty-nine men went down with it. They lay at the bottom of the lake still and Mr. Lightfoot felt they deserved more. The song is included in this concert and very nicely presented it is. 

Some of the songs they perform – and you can sing along (they encourage that) are Sundown, Early Morning Rain, Canadian Railroad Trilogy, Did She Mention My Name, If You Could Read My Mind, Alberta Bound, Rainy Day People, Song for a Winter’s Night and more.

This is a really exciting production. There are no costumes: Ms. Way only changes once, during intermission. None of that is to the point. This is all about the music and the stories within them that Gordon Lightfoot tells. There are, as well, wonderful bursts of improvisation, where these very fine musicians take turns showing their true colours and make the air around us tingle. They are so coherent, so in tune with each other that this concert flows and you never want it to stop.

A deep-set admiration, respect and love for the work and artistry of Lightfoot’s skill as a composer and his craft as a storyteller and a poet, for almost all her life- that, and her admiration, too, for the talent of the men in this collection of musicians were the main motivators for writing this concert.

They have been with her for most of the road of touring several months of the year back and forth across Canada and at so many venues here in Ontario. New to the pack is Liam Collins and we took the opportunity to talk to him during the reception after the Opening Night performance.

Still in his twenties, Liam Collins comes from a theatre family: his father, Jess Collins, who was also at the theatre that evening, is an actor and Artistic Director for the Orillia Opera House and his mother is internationally renowned jazz singer, Carol McCartney.

Having graduated from computer science studies at Queen’s University, where he had been involved in several theatre productions, Liam decided to have theatre and music as his career.

“When he told me about wanting to go into theatre,” said Jess Collins, “I encouraged him. It’s a great life and you can earn a living in the theatre.”

About playing in this show and with Ms. Way and the musicians in this company, Liam commented, “I’m so blessed to playing with these fantastically talented people. I’m learning so much from them.”

Leisa Way later told us how much she is enjoying doing this concert, with its extraordinary spins on a few of the songs. 

“I used to have some doubts about my ideas and worry about other people’s opinions. But now, after 12 shows, I’m really trusting my instincts and that’s paying off. Bruce [Ley] does the arranging and he and I are working closely together: we’re learning and growing.”

Early Morning Rain, The Legend of Gordon Lightfoot is on at Theatre Orangeville from now until March 1. Tickets as usual at the Box Office, 87 Broadway or the Information Centre on Buena Vista Drive at Highway 10; by telephone at 519-942-3423 or online at

You can still purchase a three-show subscription when you buy tickets for this concert, as there are two more shows to come – saves money and gets you out.

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