As the audience enters, strains of vintage country tunes fill the air. The music segues from the pops and cracks of old recordings to the live band that will serve as back-up for the late country music legend about to take the stage, Virginia native Patsy Cline.
While the musicians ease into “Amazing Grace” and “Hey, Good Lookin’,” we have a chance to take in the setting, not a Grand Ole Opry stage, but a comfortable, lived-in home, complete with dirty dishes in the sink and family photos decorating the living room. This is not Patsy Cline’s living room, but that of her number one fan.
Always… Patsy Cline is more than a musical retrospective; it is a personal story recounting a unique bond between two women. Now through June 30, fans of Patsy Cline and down home, country music camaraderie can feel right at home with Infinity Theatre Company’s production.
Ted Swindley’s Always … Patsy Cline has delighted audiences for more than two decades, from regional theatres, Off-Broadway, the Grand Ole Opry itself and soon on Broadway. It’s easy to see why, based on this Infinity Theatre production.
From the opening warm-up songs to the rousing encore of “Bill Bailey”, the capacity crowd was happily captivated by such hit songs as “Crazy” and “I Fall to Pieces” by the late country music legend.
Bringing back the sultry tones and sweet riffs of Cline’s unmistakable voice, Jenny Lee Stern has a winning way with the material. From her first appearance, bounding onto the stage in a fringed, red cowgirl outfit to belt out “Honky Tonk Merry Go Round,” Stern may not be Cline’s spitting image but her powerful voice and style molds effortlessly in tribute to the country star. (One possible exception – during “Come On In,” I’d swear instead of Patsy Cline, Stern channeled Reba McEntire. If you see the show, see if I’m not right.)
Along with her gifted pipes, Stern has the stage presence that could fill up the Grand Ole Opry, especially in the playful songs, “Walkin’ After Midnight,” and “Stupid Cupid.” And she brings out a good bit of sex appeal in some of the torchier songs, such as “Sweet Dreams” and “True Love.”
The performance of Robin Baxter as Louise Seger is the heart of the show. Baxter serves as the narrator and host and she drew us all in from her comfortable living room sofa. A natural and gifted comedienne, Baxter mined every laugh of Louise’s easy charm and truth telling manner. While she may have edged close to being over the top a few times with her playful (perhaps improvised) banter with the audience, the actress showed us the profound nature of the brief friendship Louise and Patsy shared.
Louise Seger was a Houston housewife who first heard Patsy when she was first discovered on the Arthur Godfrey TV program. Years later, once Cline got radio airplay, Louise would stop everything to listen to the songs or pester her local DJ to play Patsy’s records. When Patsy travels to Houston to sing at a dance hall, Louise is front and center at the appearance and she is able to meet her idol and find out Cline was just a regular gal and was “just as much us as we were.”
After an evening of girl-talk and bonding, ending with bacon and eggs in Louise’s house, Patsy would never see her number one fan again. The two ladies became pen-pals and maintained a correspondence until Cline’s death at age 30. The singer would close each of her letters to Louise, “Love, Always … Patsy Cline.”
Creator Ted Swindley has crafted a simple and entertaining show based on the relationship of these two not-so-different women. Through the eyes of Louise, we see that Patsy Cline was more than a voice on records; she was a wife and mother who wiped runny noses and did her best with what she had.
Always … Patsy Cline
Closes June 30, 2013
Infinity Theatre at
1661 Bay Head Road
2 hours, 15 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $19 – $33
Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays
with added performances
Speaking of the band, they know how to pick, grin and keep the honky tonk sounds going. Music director and pianist Tim Rosser leads the group, which includes the whole array of instruments from that era of country music: steel guitar, fiddle, guitar, bass, and drums.
Kurt Alger’s costumes bring back memories of the women I grew up with in Southwest Virginia and the stylish costumes worn by stars on the old country variety shows like “Community Jamboree” and “Hee Haw.” One in particular – a stunning black dress for Stern – drew appreciative applause. Last, but certainly not least, is the wig work by Leah Loukas. Patsy’s short and stylish raven hair and Louise’s mane of flaming red make for stark contrast and immediately place the performers in the early 1960s.
Always … Patsy Cline is not a warts-and-all, tell all type of show. For what it sets out to do – humanize a musical icon, share both her greatest hits and a little insight into the woman she was – this show delivers. If you love classic country music, are a fan of Patsy Cline, or like your feel-good musicals with a sniffle or two, you’d be crazy to miss Always … Patsy Cline.
Always … Patsy Cline by Ted Swindley . Directed by Chan Harris . Music Direction by Tim Rosser . Featuring Jenny Lee Stern and Robin Baxter . Costumes: Kurt Baxter . Set design: Anshuman Bhatia . Lighting design: Jimmy Lawlor . Produced by Infinity Theatre Company . Reviewed by Jeffrey Walker