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Always… Patsy Cline

by Ted Swindley

Directed by Michael Hamilton

STAGES St. Louis

April 26, 2014

 

Zoe Vonder Haar, Jacqueline Petroccia Photo by Peter Wochniak STAGES St. Louis

Zoe Vonder Haar, Jacqueline Petroccia
Photo by Peter Wochniak
STAGES St. Louis

Patsy Cline is a legend of country music. She’s one of those performers whose work has transcended its genre, as she was able to successfully cross over into pop music and create a lasting impression during her relatively short career.  Even now, over 50 years after her tragic early death, she is fondly remembered by fans of all ages, and many of her songs are now regarded as timeless classics. With such a well-regarded catalog of great songs, if anyone is a fitting subject for a “jukebox musical”, it’s Cline, and playwright Ted Swindley has provided a good one in Always… Patsy Cline. In an encore run of their highly successful and critically acclaimed production from last year, STAGES St. Louis has presented an entertaining and ideally cast tribute to this legendary performer and her great music.

As a musical that is primarily focused on showcasing Cline’s music, there really isn’t much of a plot.  Telling the simple, true story of an unlikely friendship that forms between Patsy (Jacqueline Petroccia) and one of her biggest fans, a Texas divorcee and mother of two named Louise Seger (Zoe Vonder Haar), the show relies on the music, the charismatic performances of its leads, and Petroccia’s powerful vocals to carry the show. The show is set in Louise’s kitchen many years after her first meeting with Patsy, and she looks back fondly on her memories of their relationship.  The enthusiastic, personable Louise is an excellent narrator for the action, as she relates her first time hearing Patsy sing on TV and then details her growing appreciation of the singer and, eventually, their meeting and quickly building friendship, as Patsy performs a concert in Louise’s hometown of Houston and the two end up spending the evening together, and Louise convinces Patsy to stay over at her house and then make an impromptu trip to a local radio station for an interview in the morning before flying out to her next gig.  As Louise recounts the eventful meeting, the action is punctuated by Patsy’s songs, sometimes performed in the context of concert or radio appearances and sometimes in Louise’s kitchen.  It’s an interesting little story and the characters are amiable, but the biggest star of the show is the music, very well-sung by Petroccia in Patsy Cline’s distinctive style and expertly played by the excellent band.

This isn’t simply a staged concert, though.  Petroccia does an excellent job sounding enough like Patsy Cline to be convincing, but she’s not simply a mimic.  She brings a great deal of energy and heart to the performance, especially in songs like “Crazy” and “Faded Love”, and more upbeat numbers such as “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and “San Antonio Rose”, and her obvious instant bond with Vonder Haar’s Louise is clear. Vonder Haar, for her part, is a delight, bringing a great deal of folksy charm to the outgoing and extremely likable Louise.  Vonder Haar also has many great moments interacting with the audience, and she even manages to convince a man to dance with her onstage. It’s a role that requires a great deal of improvisational ability, and Vonder Haar displays that with style.  She even gets to sing along with with Petroccia on a few songs, and they sound great together and seem to be having a great deal of fun playing these characters. That fun is contagious, too, with the audience clapping and (when invited to) singing along with great enthusiasm. It’s also fun to see how the great-sounding band is brought into the story from time to time, as they interact with both Patsy and Louise in a few humorous moments.

Visually, the detailed set by James Wolk and the colorful and period-specific costumes by Lou Bird add to the atmosphere and overall celebratory spirit of the production. There are some clever little touches like a stove that transforms into a jukebox, and the lighting (designed by Matthew McCarthy) helps to set the mood, as well.  All of the technical aspects of the show are very well-done and contribute to the early 1960s flavor of the production.

While Cline’s death is dealt with briefly and very respectfully, for the most part this show is a celebration of her life and her music, so the overall atmosphere is upbeat and positive.  This is an unabashed love letter to Patsy Cline and her songs, excellently cast, staged and sung.  This isn’t an in-depth biography or character study, but it isn’t trying to be. Both casual and hardcore fans of Cline and her music will surely find much to love about this production, and I think many of those who aren’t as familiar with her music will enjoy it as well. It’s a tribute to a legendary performer, and as such it succeeds very well.  STAGES has done very well bringing it back by popular demand.

Zoe Vonder Haar, Jacqueline Petroccia Photo by Peter Wochniak STAGES St. Louis

Zoe Vonder Haar, Jacqueline Petroccia
Photo by Peter Wochniak
STAGES St. Louis

 

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