Daina Janitis reviews Wichita Lineman now playing at the Port Stanley Festival Theatre


There’s a wrenching moment in the film of Glen Campbell’s final tour …I’ll be me in which his daughter Ashley gently turns to him and says, “Dad- you just sang that one”. Glen shakes his head, looks back toward his teleprompter, and repeats the line he’s used in interviews: “If you do it perfect the first time, that’s the way they’ll want it every time.” At the brand new theatre auditorium in Port Stanley, the cast, crew, and band get it perfect in “Wichita Lineman: The Music of Glen Campbell”. This show, conceived and created by Leisa Way, runs to June 4th.  And since you won’t be seeing Glen Campbell on tour ever again- make time for this tribute to his fascinating life, his immortal songs, and his brilliant instrumentalism.

Aaron Solomon is terrific as Glen Campbell (and summons up Johnny Cash, John Wayne, and Tommy Smothers at some stunning moments). His facility on guitars and electric fiddle enriches the performance of songs that entertained us, subtly protested for us (Galveston), and gave us hope as we aged and reflected on our own mistakes. Wichita Lineman is actually the last song in the show- and Solomon’s notes hold on achingly long in this “first existential country song”. Solomon is rousing and funny in his string of Beach Boys numbers that Glen Campbell performed when Brian Wilson was ill in 1964-5. And he’ll break your heart as he sings I‘m not gonna miss you -"I'm still here but yet I'm gone/ I don't play guitar or sing my songs..."

Leisa Way is particularly proud of her band “Wayward Wind”- and this production proves her pride in their work. Not only are they all superb backup musicians- but members become singing characters in the show. A fine moment is Bobby Prochaska’s recreation of Roger Miller’s appearances on Campbell’s successful “Goodtime Hour” – and it’s breathtaking to hear Fred Smith sing a Kenny Rogers song as ably as he “duels” using his guitar with the star on electric fiddle!

But it’s Leisa Way, the musician who conceived and created this show that will take your breath away. Leisa lives now in Orangeville- but her passion for performance and love of her musical colleagues have taken her from childhood in Sudbury (Copper Cliff, actually, she corrects) across the country and over the world through a set of performance credits that should make her name as familiar to us as those of the stars whom she has celebrated in her shows. She was “Anne” for five seasons in PEI and brought the spunky redhead to Japan’s eager audiences. She has brought Patsy Cline to us again in “Sweet Dreams” and matched the ongoing spunk of Dolly Parton in “Rhinestone Cowgirl”.  And in this show, she joins Solomon on stage as a sultry, dark-voiced Bobbie Gentry, a wholesome Anne Murray- sans shoes, and a fiery Texas tornado, Tanya Tucker. She can rivet attention without upstaging either her star or her band.  One very classy lady- who takes time to greet audience members as they exit and thanks them for coming!

The timing and tone of this tribute to Glen Campbell are poignant. And if its creator and her cast will forgive me- you have done it perfect.

Daina Janitis is a Londoner by choice, living in a woodlot just across the city limits, reveling in retirement by volunteering for many of the music groups of the city. She taught English for 33 years in area high schools, planned school travel through Pauwels, managed the London Youth Symphony, and was the last president of the Volunteer Committee of Orchestra London. She continues to be delighted by the unique bounty of creative arts available to Londoners.

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