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Women & Girls: Sudbury’s Leisa Way brings Lightfoot show home

Now a seasoned veteran of the Canadian theatre scene who runs her own production company, Way got her start here in Sudbury
Leisa Way and The Wayward Wind Band are in Sudbury this month, performing their Early Morning Rain show, which celebrates the music of the late Gordon Lightfoot.

Although she’s now a seasoned veteran of the Canadian theatre scene, Leisa Way got her start in Sudbury, spending a good chunk of her teens performing in local productions.

Way even turned the sod for the Sudbury Theatre Centre building when it opened in 1982 in her Dorothy costume — she was cast in the theatre's production of Wizard of Oz as a young teen.

Those early days became the foundation for the more than four decades Way has spent on the stage, which notably includes a six-season stint as Anne in Anne of Green Gables at the Charlottetown Festival in PEI.

These days, Way is the producer, creator and performer with Way-To-Go Productions, which has produced 12 concerts that have been performed to audiences across North America, including on many occasions here in Greater Sudbury.

The shows “tell fascinating stories, with warmth and humour, while celebrating the music of legendary artists,” says the company’s website, including, but not limited to, Peggy Lee, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, Glen Campbell and Gordon Lightfoot.

While COVID-19 sidelined Leisa Way and The Wayward Wind Band, as the group is known, they’ve been touring Ontario extensively this year, performing six out of their 12 shows.

One of those shows is called Early Morning Rain, and celebrates the music of the late Gordon Lightfoot. The celebrated Canadian musician passed away May 1 of this year at the age of 84.

Serendipitously, Way and her troupe happened to be scheduled to perform the Lightfoot show in his hometown of Orillia the same week he passed away.

Way-To-Go Productions is now bringing Early Morning Rain to Sudbury. Presented by Sudbury Performance Group, the show is set to run Oct. 27-29 at Place des Arts.

Sudbury Performance Group had originally booked the Way-To-Go Productions show Rhinestone Cowgirls: A Tribute to Dolly Parton, but changed its booking to the Lightfoot show after the musician’s passing.

Always excited to perform in her hometown, Way said performing the Lightfoot show here is especially meaningful, given she wrote the show as a memorial to her late father.

She said her father, Leo Way, was a big Lightfoot fan who would play eight-tracks of his music while they were driving to camp. 

“This is before seatbelts,” she said. “I would stand between the seats of the truck, my mom on one side, my dad on the other, and belt out Gordon Lightfoot. My dad couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but he loved to sing … That’s how my love for Gordon Lightfoot began.

“In 2019, it came upon me that I've done all of these concerts honouring all these incredible artists, and that if my dad had a choice, and he was still around, he'd be bugging me to do a Gordon Lightfoot concert,” she said. “So that's how it came about.”

Way said she premiered the Lightfoot show in February 2020, and ran it for three weeks, to great success. But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, shutting down the world and Way’s shows along with it. 

Touring once again this year, Way brought her Lightfoot show out of mothballs, and, as mentioned above, happened to have booked it at an Orillia venue — Lightfoot’s hometown — on the same week he passed away.

“It was incredibly emotional and it remains emotional at certain points during our concert to this day,” she said.

Lightfoot had actually wanted to see the concert honouring his music in 2020, but of course, the pandemic hit, and all performances were cancelled. 

When Way rebooked some of the Lightfoot shows this year, she reached out to his publicist again to see if he’d like to take in a performance, but sadly, it wasn’t to be.

Lightfoot’s nephew, Steve Eyers, did see the Early Morning Rain show this year, complementing the performers’ musicianship, and saying his uncle would have been proud. 

Eyers — an old friend of Fred Smith, a member of Way’s band — is also in a group that does a musical tribute to his uncle.

Way said in an email to her group “certainly have felt Gord’s presence” in touring this year. “Just this Thanksgiving Saturday night we performed to a sold-out crowd in Owen Sound and you could honestly feel the love for Gord in the room,” she said.

The Lightfoot show includes hits such as “Early Morning Rain,” “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Carefree Highway,” “Sundown,” “For Lovin’ Me,” “Canadian Railroad Trilogy,” “Ribbon of Darkness,” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” just to name a few.

“I think they'll hear first of all some of their favourite Lightfoot songs,” said Way.

“I think they're going to hear some surprise songs. We actually sing the hula hoop song that Gordon wrote when he was 17 years old, the first song he ever wrote. There was no music, but we kind of just put some beat under it and say the words…

“They'll hear so many stories that hopefully they haven't heard before, about Gord and his life, and I really just think it’s just a happy show. 

“It's a great celebration if they're fans of Lightfoot. I always say, if they’re fans of Lightfoot, great, they’re going to come and party with us. And if they’re not fans, come to the show, and we’ll make you a fan.”

The Early Morning Rain show runs at Place des Arts at 7:30 p.m. each evening of the run. Purchase tickets online here.

Heidi Ulrichsen is’s assistant editor. She also covers education and the arts scene. Women & Girls is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.