David Leyshon is a familiar face to Calgary theatre audiences, but he is working behind the scenes on If It Weren’t For You, the latest from Lunchbox. Leyshon is making his directing debut with the musical, which was written by Joe Slabe. Bruce Weir caught up with Leyshon to talk about calling the shots and whether love is really all you need.

This is a musical in which a man and wife wonder about the “magnificent lives they would be leading if only that pesky matrimonial partner they currently have was not holding them back.” Tell me it has a happy ending. It’s interesting. I was talking about this with (writer and composer) Joe Slabe the other day. Most musicals or, say, Shakespearean comedies end with a wedding. This one starts with one—it starts with the happy ending. So it’s really concerned with what comes after, with the hard work that goes into keeping a relationship going. So the happy ending would be re-opening the lines of communication.

I guess that’s a huge achievement in this day and age. We’re all conditioned to think there’s something better right around the corner. You know, like “this phone is awesome, but I bet the next one will be amazing.” So the husband and wife in the show begin to wonder: “is this person is holding me back or keeping me in an old routine?”

How does that kind of dark quality come across in a musical? The show does have a light quality and humour, but there is an undercurrent to it. These are big issues that people are dealing with. It has an eerily familiar aspect to it. When we’re discussing a scene or a song, at least one person in the room will say, “Oh, God. I’ve had this conversation before.”

You’re a familiar face on Calgary stages, but how did you land your first gig as a director? I was at Lunchbox a few years ago doing a musical (This Could Be Love) and got talking with (artistic director) Pam Halstead about my eye. I was familiar with how it works from the inside, she asked if I thought I could bring that eye to it from the outside. She asked if a musical came around, would I be interested in directing.

And you jumped at the chance? With a slight hint of terror, I said yes. So when she took a shine to this music and premise, she called me. I’m just lucky that she thought I’d be good for this one

And were you lucky when it came time to casting the show? Oh, for sure. As a first-time director, you need people who are not just good at their jobs but who are ready to jump in and play, who want to go for the ride. Katherine Fadum and JP Thibodeau have both been excellent. I’ve worked with Katherine as an actor, so I knew she was great. JP is a bit of a new face for me, but he has a lot of charm and a great voice.

And just to keep you in line, Joe Slabe, who wrote the book and music is serving as the musical director and also acting in the show. That’s been great, actually, to have Joe around. It’s great to have him as an actor, too, because it gives the show a different dynamic—he’s not behind the piano the whole time.

So how are you enjoying directing? It’s great but also intense. At the end of the day, my brain is kind of done.

If I Weren’t With You: Monday, April 1 to Saturday, April 20. At Lunchbox Theatre, 160, 115 9th Ave. S.E. $17 – $20. 403-265-4292 ext. 0, lunchboxtheatre.com.

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