Theater Review: “Always…Patsy Cline”
The original Patsy.
Patsy Cline – the Virginia-born pop/country singer whose Southern charm is as disarming as her contralto finesse – receives a delightful musical tribute with “Always…Patsy Cline,” now playing at Barksdale’s Hanover Tavern with an extended run until April 29.
Starting with the onstage band, named the “Bodacious Bobcats” led by H. Drew Perkins, tuning their fiddles and modulating their drums as theatergoers trickle to their seats with Dixie Juleps in hand to the encore that included not just one, but two, additional exuberant solo performances, director Joe Pabst successfully enlivens the stage with the Southern music culture of the Grand Ole Opry that catapulted Cline into a honky-tonk music bonanza.
To begin with, Debra Wagoner is flawless in her portrayal as Patsy Cline. Ricocheting into the spotlight across scenic designer Terrie Powers’ country roadhouse stage in red cowgirl apparel embroidered with white rural images, Wagoner embraces the microphone with an alacrity that displays the fervor of her performances for the rest of the evening. Original costume design by Elizabeth Weiss Hopper, assisted with wardrobe by Leah Hicks, manicures Wagoner in a medley of outfits as variegated as her rich vocal ornamentation.
Transfixing her attention straight ahead in intense concentration on each successive ballad she performs for us, evoking in me a galvanized foot-tapping accompaniment and whispered sing-along, it’s a surprise to learn that Cline, through her own admission on stage, had no knowledge of reading music. Yet, Wagoner makes it look like as if those treble clefs and musical notes crystallize before her as effortlessly as Mozart could compose a world-class symphony in only one draft.
Wagoner, whose star musical prowess is as translucent as her ability to form friendships with the most homely of women, Louise Seger (Terri Moore), takes careful steps to uphold the emotional integrity of Cline’s repertoire. Cline didn’t just sing about trivial Southern themes like trucks, dogs and country boys, instead Wagoner’s truthful characterization transmits Cline’s poignant exploration of herself and her relationship to men within the context of her expressive singing. (If you closely listen to the lyrics, you’ll quickly discern this theme.)
Adjacent to her stellar solo performances, an unlikely relationship between Cline and Louise Seger, mentioned above, motors the plot along. Moore characterizes Seger as a rollicking country gal with gusto and humor. She’s Cline’s most ardent fan, calling into the radio station daily to hear interminable renditions of Cline’s music. While Act I focuses on Cline’s biography as an up and coming country singer, Act II explores the interactions between Cline and Seger. They bond over their men troubles, forming a lifelong pen pal friendship in the process.
Written and originally directed by Ted Swindley, this production should do well with those with an affinity for country culture. Others, however, will benefit from Swindley’s heartfelt reflection on the life of an inspiring woman whose music brings tears to even the most insouciant listeners.
“Always…Patsy Cline” runs through April 29th, 2012 at Barksdale’s Hanover Tavern. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.barksdalerichmond.org/
Matthew Miller is the former arts editor and chief theater critic for GAYRVA.com. A Chicago native, he holds a B.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He currently resides in Richmond, VA and is a member of the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Matthew Miller on Twitter twitter.com/matthewkmiller
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