Monday, April 22, 2013

Crazy About Always…Patsy Cline

Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer
Pictured is Sara Catherine Wheatley as Patsy Cline
By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
Is Broadway Rose’s current production of Always…Patsy Cline a two-person musical, or is it a country/pop concert with a dynamite vocalist and an ass-kickin’ band? Yes, it is. Should you go see it, even if your musical tastes generally run to loftier genres? Yes, you should.

First, a brief history lesson. Fifty years ago, thirty-year-old Patsy Cline was killed in a plane crash. Twenty-five years ago, Ted Swindley’s Always…Patsy Cline made its stage debut in Houston, Texas. Three years ago, Broadway Rose Theatre Company brought the show to town. Last week, they brought it back. Good for them, good for us.

Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer
Pictured is Sara Catherine Wheatley and Sharon Maroney
The show is based on the real-life relationship between Patsy Cline and an ardent fan, Louise Seger. Louise fell in love with Patsy’s music after hearing her on the Arthur Godfrey Show, and spent one night as Patsy’s self-appointed manager and hostess that led to a lasting friendship between the two women. The story is told by Louise talking directly to the audience, direct conversations between Louise and Patsy, Louise’s imagination, Patsy and Louise interacting with the band, and of course the twenty-eight songs that Patsy sings in a foot-stomping couple of hours.

Alabama native Sarah Catherine Wheatley (Patsy Cline) is simply amazing. We loved her two years ago as Annie Oakley, but Patsy is the role she was born to play. Wheatley’s vocal ability and stage presence recreate the magic that can only be experienced when a first-rate performer is seen live – recordings just do not capture the exuberance or the intimacy that we imagine Patsy Cline must have brought to the stage. Remarkably, Wheatley achieves this without overt imitation – her vocal style, while reminiscent of Cline’s, is distinctly her own, and she actually has a more solid singing voice (particularly in her lower register) than the character she portrays.

Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer
Pictured is Sharon Maroney and Sara Catherine Wheatley
Sharon Maroney (as Louise) is by no means a secondary character. She serves as a “Greek Chorus” who narrates the events of Patsy’s life, but it is really the evening that the two women spend together that shows the audience Patsy Cline’s human face. Maroney is hilarious as the working-class divorcee who befriends the star and drags her home for bacon and eggs after a 1961 performance. The two women have a common bond of children, ex-husbands, and optimism tempered with a healthy dose of crusty cynicism. Despite her outlandish wardrobe, occasional bumps and grinds, “impromptu” duets, and loud and wisecracking delivery, Maroney demonstrates just enough restraint that she never upstages her idol. Both Maroney and Wheatley are obviously having a great time with each other and with the band (listen to the 1961 Tulsa concert, available on CD, to get a sense of how Patsy’s down-to-earth attitude cements her relationship with the musicians).

Speaking of the band – they are great performers who really “get” the down-home feel of the era’s country music. Musical director/conductor/pianist Barney Stein has done an incredible job – Bob Wills would have been proud to work with this group of musicians. The band’s subtle but effective vocal harmonies add an unexpected and welcome touch.

Director Chan Harris has assembled a support team that creates just the right atmosphere. The versatile set works beautifully (who knew an oven could be a juke-box?), costumes are faithful to the period, and the sound, lighting, and special effects are flawless. A wildly enthusiastic full-house audience gave not one, but two, standing ovations – both resoundingly well-deserved.

Always…Patsy Cline is playing at Broadway Rose’s New Stage, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard through May 19th.

Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer
Pictured is Sharon Maroney and Sara Catherine Wheatley

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