Thursday, August 07, 2008

Always..Patsy Cline

Again, my favorite theatre venue, the American Heartland Theatre, has mounted a winner. As a “community theatre”, AHT is far from cutting edge, no controversial plays, few deep moral issues and usually a happy ending is required. At the same time it is consistently professional, entertaining and certainly far above the level of a high school play, drawing a large, diverse and loyal audience.

The current winning production, “Always…Patsy Cline”, is not new to the stage or to the AHT. One of the most successful of its type in the country, “Always..Patsy Cline” has played to sold out audiences around the country since its premiere in Houston in 1988. Of course, who doesn’t love the subject? Patsy Cline is a legend, her songs and story are as fresh and fascinating today as they were in the late 50’s. Cline’s natural talent, emotions, ability to communicate and her “realness” made her a star then and a legend today. Imagine a music star today, even a country music star, taking a commercial air flight, hailing a cab and showing up at the venue, alone trailing her luggage and the music for the band. That was Cline, always down to earth, even while fame and fortune were at her feet, ready to sit down with the band or the crowd, drink a beer and tell and laugh at the latest jokes. Instead of running from her simple, hard luck background, she thrived on what it taught her.

“Always..Patsy Cline” is more than just a musical review of Cline’s short lived career (she died at age 30 in a plane crash in 1963) but is a reflection on the lady herself, her charm and ability to mesmerize an audience. The show is based on a true story about Cline’s friendship with a fan from Houston named Louise Seger, who befriended the star in a Houston night club in l961, and continued a correspondence with Cline until her death. The show’s title was inspired by Cline's letters to Louise, always signed "Love ALWAYS... Patsy Cline.”

The main stage is the concert hall and thus the show is set around the 1961 concert in Houston. At both sides, a 1960’s kitchen and sitting area provide the setting for Louise to reminisce about her friendship with Patsy, how they met, her impressions of Patsy and her constant hounding of a local DJ to play her songs. Becky Barta has made a specialty of playing Patsy Cline and does a remarkable job of portraying her gutsiness and vulnerabilities. She can belt the songs out with the same musicality and gusto as Miss Cline.

Cathy Barnett literally steals the show as Louise Seger. Barnett is a former stand-up comic who makes excellent use of her improvisational skills and knows how to work a crowd. Some of her ad libs seem planned, but others do not. Either way, the audience last Thursday loved her sassy, flirtatious way of interacting with the crowd. Since Greg and I have front row seats and the stage is not separated from the audience, we get to interact a lot. Louise told me I have nice legs!

“Always..Patsy Cline” has been extended until the 17th. The AHT goes from strength to strength, but it will take a lot to top this one.

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