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Posts Tagged ‘patsy cline’

Songs for Nobodies
by Joanna Murray-Smith
Directed by Pamela Hunt
Max & Louie Productions
January 24, 2020

Debby Lennon
Photo by John Lamb
Max & Louie Productions

Max & Louie Productions has had a lot of success with Debby Lennon front and center, and their latest production is no different. Songs For Nobodies is a one-woman show featuring the stories of five “ordinary” women and their encounters with five legendary performers of the 20th Century, featuring a variety of musical styles from classic pop standards, to country, to jazz, to classical. It seems an ideal vehicle for the talented, vocally versatile Lennon, and she and the show do not disappoint.

This isn’t one story, but five, highlighting the larger-than-life talents of legendary singers Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday, and Maria Callas, as told from the points of view of five different women who had memorable meetings with one of the five. There’s restroom attendant Beatrice Ethel Appleton, who encounters Garland while on the job at a swanky New York hotel and receives some comfort and advice in a difficult time. There’s also Pearl Avalon, whose meeting with Cline (at what would turn out to be the singer’s last performance) inspired her future career as a backup singer for some of country music’s greatest stars. We also meet Edie Delamotte, an English librarian who remembers her father’s fateful meeting with Piaf during World War II, as well as Too Junior Jones, an ambitious New York reporter who gets an interview with Holiday. Finally, Irish nanny Orla McDonagh recounts her run-in with Callas–and Aristotle Onassis–on a luxury yacht. The overall point seems to be highlighting the music of the famous singers, while also showing their impact on “everyday” women in more “mundane” non-celebrity positions, while also in its own way showing the humanity of iconic figures who are often remembered more by their public image. So, while some of these women may be “nobodies” and some are world-renowned, the underlying point is that everyone is somebody.

The one-woman show nature of this piece makes casting a crucial matter, and Max & Louie’s creative team have chosen their “go-to” MVP, Lennon, for this challenging task. The choice is unsurprising considering Lennon’s already proven talent, both in terms of acting and her remarkable voice. She gets a chance to show off all of her considerable skills here, from giving us unique characterizations of all of the “ordinary women” that require her to employ several different accents and play different ages, to getting to perform a “greatest hits” array of songs associated with the five legendary singers–such as “Come Rain or Come Shine” for Garland, “Crazy” for Cline, “Non, Je Regrette Rien” for Piaf, “Strange Fruit” for Holiday, and Puccini’s “Vissi d’arte” for Callas. This is an impressively wide range of styles, and Lennon delivers each song with remarkable versatility.  Overall, each segment has its own humor, drama, and poignancy, although for me the standout was the Piaf segment, both for Lennon’s uncannily accurate singing and for the power of the story itself.

Technically, the show is remarkable in its stylish simplicity. There are no costume or makeup changes, and Lennon–outfitted by costume designer Dorothy Jones in a simple black dress–relies on the strength of her own acting to show the changes in characters, with occasional use of accessories such as scarf and sunglasses for Callas, a glass of whiskey for Holiday, a black shawl for Piaf. Dunsi Dai’s elegant set, Kevin Bowman’s projections, and Stellie Siteman’s props contribute much to the mood, as well. There’s also excellent atmospheric work from lighting designer Tony Anselmo, proficient sound from Phillip Evans, and an excellent musical ensemble led by music director and pianist Nicolas Valdez and featuring Jake Stergos on bass and Keith Bowman on percussion.

Songs for Nobodies is a “showcase” kind of show, for its iconic celebrity subjects, for their “ordinary counterparts” and, especially because of its structure, for the show’s featured star. Here, Debby Lennon gets to remind audiences of her memorable talents, and Max & Louie Productions gets to produce another remarkable performance. If you love these artists and their music, and especially if you love to experience the power of live performance, this is a show to see, and hear.

 

Debby Lennon
Photo by John Lamb
Max & Louie Productions

Max & Louie Productions is presenting Songs for Nobodies at the Kranzberg Theatre until February 2, 2020

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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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