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Leisa Way and Friends are bringing ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’ to Theatre Orangeville

June 22, 2023   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

Leisa Way and Friends are coming to Theatre Orangeville with a concert from the Great American Song Book. Four performances will take place from June 27 to June 29 of Ms. Way’s “Happy Days are Here Again.” 

It’s expected to be a wonderful couple of hours of songs and stories from a list of favourites.

Ms. Way said, “I have found some real gems of stories to share with audiences.”

As a season add-on show, Ms. Way is “so excited to bring this powerhouse quartet of musician/singers to the Theatre Orangeville stage.”

One of that powerhouse is Doug Balfour on piano and vocals, who was the seed that planted the idea for this concert. As fellow performers doing musical theatre together in the mid-80s, he and Ms. Way knew each other before he moved to Vancouver. She had not seen him for 30 years. When Bob Hewus told her that Mr. Balfour was back in Toronto, they suggested it would be fun to sing together with him at the Black Birch Restaurant – and it was.

At the same time, during the pandemic, Globus Theatre in Bobcaygeon asked Ms. Way to put together an upbeat show to perform outdoors, and she decided that a concert taken from the Great American Song Book would work. Including her guitarist, Fred Smith, who “is such a great player,” after four outdoor performances [as allowed by the protocols at the time], they had a show that was soon recognized as something special.

Added to the three, Hockley Valley’s Bob Hewus, bass and vocals; Doug Balfour, piano and vocals and Fred Smith, guitar and vocals. Ms. Way brought in Nathan Smith as the violinist and for vocals. Mr. Smith has been a member of Ms. Way’s Wayward Wind Band for nine years.

“I had just listened to a James Taylor standard,” she commented, “and he had a fiddler playing and it gave such a swinging feel to it, I asked Nathan to join us.”

She titled it Happy Days Are Here Again because the concert had to be performed outdoors when people were not allowed to be in the theatre during the pandemic. Ms. Way was anxious to give audiences the music they would know most fondly as fun and the best to lighten everyone’s spirits.

“Another reason we’re playing this music,” she added, “is because when Globus first asked us, one of us said, ‘I’d just do a jazz concert.’ So, these talented fellas and I have chosen some of our favourite songs to sing and perform for this concert.”

It is also a new concert, different and apart from the other concerts she has created, like “Rhinestone Cowgirl: Celebrating Dolly Parton.”

Bringing Happy Days to Theatre Orangeville is good timing once again, as people are inundated with difficult news from around the world – this is the concert, a couple of hours of wonderful songs performed by brilliant musicians/singers.

According to Ms. Way’s notes, the Great American Songbook is “The Great American Songbook are popular songs that have stood the test of time, and include jazz, country, swing, popular songs, songs from Broadway musicals and movies — it’s really a cannon of some of the most popular songs ever written.”

Ms. Way told the Citizen that she has loved this music since she was a little girl. Her mother used to let her stay up late on weekends when they would sit back and watch Elwy Yost’s movie nights – all those fine old movie musicals. Many of those songs still claim popularity today, composed as they originally were for Broadway musicals, from which the musical movies “were inspired.”

They are the soul of this upcoming concert from composers like [to mention some] George and Ira Gershwin, Henry Mancini, Cole Porter, Rogers and Hart, Lerner and Loewe, Irving Berlin with a nod to Brazilian music with Antonio Carlos Jobim. Indeed, bringing the Canadian greats into the mix as well, this musical party includes Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen and more.

There is even a story about Norm Foster.

Ms. Way gave us the preview: “Back in 1926 George Gershwin wanted to write a Broadway musical comedy based on a novel he liked by P.G. Wodehouse. It was titled A Damsel in Distress,” she began the history. “But [instead] RKO bought the film rights … but it wasn’t the musical George had envisioned.”

In 1998, the Shaw Festival approached Norm Foster to write a book to all of the original songs George and Ira Gershwin had written for a musical, “A Foggy Day” by Shaw Festival. The show got great reviews, and the title song from that musical is part of this concert – a great story about Norm Foster in this Great American – and Canadian – Songbook show. After all, as she claims, Norm Foster is Theatre Orangeville’s favourite playwright.

With a nod to how jazz really works, Ms. Way commented that during their upcoming rehearsals, they are only choosing keys and how they will open and end each song.

“The rest in the middle,” she said, “will be just unplanned and fun.”

And she quoted George Gershwin himself as saying, “Life is a lot like jazz – it’s better when you improvise!”

Grab your tickets for Happy Days are Here Again, as there are only four concerts: three evening performances and one matinee between June 27 and June 29.

Purchase them from Theatre Orangeville’s website: or call the lovely people at the Box Office at 519-942-3423.

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