If you love Patsy Cline, you're going to love this show. I do, and I did.
A simple set effectively evokes a "battered '50's" ambience (the play takes place in the early '60's). On stage left, a period AM-FM radio and ash tray on a kitchen counter with two bar stools, a small table with two pedestal chairs, a horizontal stripe of wall decor, and an iconic cowboy print on the wall define "Louis Seger's" kitchenette (Sue Schroeder-White), as she reminisces through her unexpected friendship with Patsy Cline, the device to introduce the live performance of a string of Patsy's repertoire, most of them well-known hits. On stage right, the interior of a typical club is evoked with a small raised stage with a large chrome '50-'60's-era microphone on a stand and a stool for the performer to sit; two red-plush cane chairs and a small table with two brown bottles of opened beer - (I think it was Schlitz, Lone Star would have been a nice touch) - suggests a venue - historically it would have been the Esquire Ballroom in Houston - where Patsy and Louise first meet, and where "Patsy" (Michelle Sellers) stands to deliver the well-known songs. The clever lighting deserves a mention - it's a very effective cheap trick to light the panels behind Patsy's stage (probably stage curtain black velour material) with up-lights in deep blue and bluegreen, creating a visual elegance that belies the (relatively) inexpensive materials.
Michelle's rendering is precise, studied, and believable; she nailed Patsy's vocal characteristics and unique personal phrasing - the tendency to phrase well behind the beat (you could make a case that Patsy was the Billie Holiday of the country set), the delay in the jump to pitch, the subtext of heartbreak and longing - and it was easy to imagine you were listening to the real thing if you closed your eyes for a moment. With one slight caveat. The canned accompaniment was serviceable, but obviously a stripped-down rendering that could have been "composed" in Garage Band, or provided with a "show package" from the play distributor. This is not a fatal flaw, as it is "the voice" we're interested in, and it's "the voice" that we get. Patsy's first number in the show is introduced as though coming from a radio broadcast over Louise's AM-FM radio on the counter. I appreciate the conceit, but there was a cognitive dissonance in the tinny radio-speaker quality of the accompaniment against the real present full quality of Michelle's voice coming from the other side of the stage. Then much of the first act maintained that quality in the balance, but the second act distributed the accompaniment in fuller range across the whole stage. I wondered if someone had forgotten earlier in the show to reassign the audio feeds.
If there was any audio reinforcement for Michelle's voice, I couldn't detect it. The microphone was to "set the stage" as a prop, and disappeared after the first number, and I didn't see anything like a body mic upon her person. She did seem to be cautious in her delivery, maybe saving her voice, both the accompaniment and the vocals were at such low volume some of the time you had to lean forward a little and concentrate to catch them. Maybe due to architectural shape and my particular position within it, sibilances were suppressed or sucked out of the mix - the "ess"es tended to disappear. There were times I wished she were in more full voice, which might have helped a bit, a little more honest belting here and there. These may be compromises made to accommodate an acoustic, non-reinforced version of the performance. It made me think, though, that we never heard Patsy in a non-reinforced setting, it was radio or record, even on the Opry stage through a live microphone, and that was a subtle nuance in the memory of her voice as well. In Michelle's defense, it's a long show for a lone singer, twelve numbers in the first act, thirteen numbers in the second act, and she has to do all the lifting herself (except for a brief duet with Louise) - for six weeks. She can be forgiven for being cautious in the care of her vocal equipment.
Sue Schroeder-White's "Louise" - an actual person from whose archives of correspondence with Patsy much of the material is derived - is played just short of caricature of the quintessential Texas girl you could maybe take out of the country, but you couldn't take the country out of her, and Patsy was a huge chunk of the country you couldn't take out of her. Her deep Texas drawl, and let's-get-down-and-party persona was a foil and contrast to Patsy's more reserved Tennessee demeanor, and served to underscore the uniqueness of the friendship. This is her show as much as it's Patsy's, as she provides the context, narration, excitement, the vicarious stand-in for every deep fan of Patsy's who loved her and would have loved to be her personal friend. And she does it well.
Speaking of Tennessee, I wonder why "Tennessee Waltz" doesn't make it into the show, but "Blue Moon of Kentucky" does. The song material that is employed is artfully woven through the narration with a thematic (rather than chronological) rationale. Along with the Big Three (at least in this reviewer's opinion) - "Walking After Midnight," "I Fall to Pieces," and "Crazy" - patrons are treated to Hank Williams, Bob Wills, Hank Cochran compositions, even ending the show with Cole Porter's prayerlike "True Love" - suggesting the more sophisticated path her career seemed to be on the verge of taking had it not been for the tragic plane crash that ended her career on March 5, 1963. A couple of hymns, "Just A Closer Walk With Thee," and "How Great Thou Art," remind us of Patsy's personal commitment to Christian principles and values.
To sum up, as I said at the top, if you love Patsy Cline, you'll love this show. It may not be perfect, but it's P.D.G.
ALWAYS, PATSY CLINE - Performance Schedule:
Friday, March 8 - Dinner 6:30, Show 8:00 PM
Saturday, March 9 - Dinner 6:15, Show 7:30 PM
Friday, March 15 - Dinner 6:30, Show 8:00 PM
Saturday, March 16 - Dinner 6:15, Show 7:30 PM
Sunday, March 17 - Brunch 12:45, Show 2:00 PM
Friday, March 22 - Dinner 6:30, Show 8:00 PM
Saturday, March 23 - Dinner 6:15, Show 7:30 PM
Sunday, March 24 - Brunch 12:45, Show 2:00 PM
Friday, March 29 - Dinner 6:30, Show 8:00 PM
Saturday, March 30 - Dinner 6:15, Show 7:30 PM
Friday, April 5 - Dinner 6:30, Show 8:00 PM
Saturday, April 6 - Dinner 6:15, Show 7:30 PM
Friday, April 12 - Dinner 6:30, Show 8:00 PM
Saturday, April 13 - Dinner 6:15, Show 7:30 PM
Ticket Prices for ALWAYS PATSY CLINE:
Dinner and Show $41.95
Brunch and Show $36.95
Prime Reserved Seats $27.00
Reserved Seats $24.00
Matinee Prime Reserved Seats $24.00
Matinee Reserved Seats $21.00
Restricted View Seats $16.00
Dinner includes soup or salad, bread, your choice of entree and a non-alcoholic beverage. Beer, wine and spirits as well as dessert are also available. Do you have special dietary needs? Let us know in advance and chef Scott will do his best to make your dinner at Actors Cabaret easy to digest! Call the box office at 541-683-4368 with any questions.
Get your tickets to ALWAYS, PATSY CLINE by calling the box office at 541-683-4368 or go online to www.actorscabaret.org, or visit us in person from 11:00-3:00 Tuesday through Saturday!
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