Theatre Review: “Always. . . Patsy Cline”
By Kevin M. O’Toole
On March 4, 1963, country music singer Patsy Cline was killed when the private plane taking her and two other performers to a concert gig outside Camden, Tennessee crashed. A member of the Grand Ole Opry with several gold records to her credit, she was only 30 years old.
Weston Playhouse Theatre Company continues its summer season in its theatrical space at Walker Farm with “Always. . . Patsy Cline,” a 1997 two-character tribute musical by Ted Swindley. Based upon a true story, the musical views this extraordinary woman’s career through the lens of a devoted fan’s encounter with the performer at a honky tonk on the outskirts of Houston, Texas circa 1960. Featuring renditions of favorites such as “I Fall to Pieces,” “Crazy,” and “Sweet Dreams,” last Friday’s preview performance was wonderfully entertaining.
A female in today’s country music business has a tough row to hoe, but in the early 1950’s, it was that much more difficult for a woman of talent to navigate her way to the top. That is what Patsy Cline did, catching her first big break with an appearance on the television show hosted by Arthur Godfrey, singing “Walkin’ After Midnight.” Having quit school at the age of 16 to help support her mother with singing engagements, Patsy, who eventually married, divorced, and then married again and had a few kids, was soon traveling to perform her music nationwide. She led a successful, lonely existence. Even cowgirls get the blues.
Celina Dean played Louise, the divorcee who adores Patsy’s music and becomes her friend. Dean has remarked that the structure of the show is akin to a relay race in which one runner passes the baton to the next runner and that in many ways, “Always. . . Patsy Cline” is like two one-woman shows. The evening began with a scene of Patsy singing in a spotlight at the Grand Ole Opry, and then segued into Louise’s heart to heart talk with the audience. Louise narrated all that happened. Patsy filled in the blanks with song after song.
The character of Louise is an amalgam of several devoted fans who met Patsy Cline and maintained a correspondence with the star over the years. As portrayed by Celina Dean, Louise was a firecracker with a twang. Engaging the audience, she painted a vivid picture of an era when to hear one’s favorite song played on the radio, one had to call in a request to the local radio station and pester the heck out of the deejay. The role fit Dean, in the words of Louise, “like a glove.”
As written, the character of Patsy Cline must be conveyed to the audience almost entirely through song. Margo Seibert, last seen on the Weston stage as the neglected, over-achieving daughter in “Next to Normal,” was brilliant. Seibert, possessed of a rich alto singing voice, captured not only the unique phrasing of the songs about heartache and such that made Patsy Cline a sensation, but also the performer’s weariness and humble grace.
Once again, the versatile space at Walker Farm worked famously. Scenic Designer Andrew Boyce converted the theater into a barn-like structure that alternatively served as the stage at the Grand Ole Opry, a small honky tonk ballroom outside of Houston, and Louise’s kitchen where Louise and Patsy shared coffee, stories and secrets.
Costume Designer Kathleen Geldard created a series of outfits for Patsy Cline, including the red cowgirl number with white fringes legend states was sewn by Patsy’s mother. Geldard put the very able back-up band, the Bob family, (Emily Croome on piano, Melody Berger on fiddle, Terrell King on pedal steel, Lily Maase on electric guitar, John Converino on upright bass, and Jeremy Yaddaw on drums), in cowboy hats and garb to boot.
Special kudos to Lighting Designer Paul Toben, whose various spotlights on Patsy Cline, whether on the Opry stage or at the kitchen table, allowed Margo Siebert, as Patsy, to connect with the audience even as she kept her distance. We can no longer attend a concert by this iconic performer. Weston’s production of “Always. . . Patsy Cline,” directed by Meredith McDonough, is the next best thing.
Performances of “Always. . . Patsy Cline” continue through August 24 at Weston Playhouse at Walker Farm, just a stone’s throw north on Route 100 from Weston Village. For ticket information, call the WPTC box office at (802) 824-5288 or visit its website at www.westonplayhouse.org.