Sunday, January 18, 2015

ASF: "Always, Patsy Cline"

Always, Patsy Cline has been on the boards since 1988, and the Alabama Shakespeare Festival is currently presenting its third iteration of it in the "STAGES St. Louis" production of this ever popular show. Audiences are again eating it up, and with good reason.

Based on the true story of the unlikely friendship between the iconic country singer Patsy Cline [Jacqueline Petroccia] and Louise Segar [Zoe Vonder Haar], a fan who befriended her when she was performing at the Empire Ballroom in Houston, TX, Ted Swindley's play is deftly directed by Michael Hamilton who guides his gifted cast through two acts and twenty-seven songs in a heart-felt Valentine to one of the greats of American song. -- The two hour playing time goes by in a flash as we are engaged and entertained throughout.

James Wolk's set -- a wide expanse of Louise's kitchen and sitting room with period linoleum floor and period patterned wallpaper -- transforms to The Grand Ole Opry, a television program, the Empire Ballroom and other venues; plus it contains a kitchen stove that becomes a jukebox on cue. -- Lou Bird's picture perfect costumes replicate several outfits any Patsy Cline fan would recognize.

But front and center in this production are the story of Patsy and Louise's friendship...and the music.

Ms. Vonder Haar is an able narrator and participant in the story. She inhabits the role of Louise with comfort in all her quirks so we never doubt the admiration she has for Patsy; and while she directly addresses the audience, encouraging our participation, her unabashed shoot-from-the-hip style is so engaging that we willingly go along for the ride. And we see how Patsy succumbs to her down-home Texas charm and compassion for a fellow human being who responds to kindness freely given.

Their friendship story is interspersed with a catalogue of Patsy Cline's repertoire: "Anytime", "I Fall to Pieces", "Sweet Dreams", "Crazy", and "Faded Love" among them. When Ms. Petroccia opens up at the top of the show with "Honky Tonk Merry Go Round", we need no more convincing that we're in for a powerhouse performance. Ms. Petroccia has a strong voice and an ability to sell a ballad, novelty number, or foot-stompin' honky-tonk, complete with a 'catch' in her voice that replicates Patsy Cline's vocal style.

Musical Director Joel Jones and his six piece Bodacious Bobcats Band provide spot-on interpretations of the songs, some back-up singing, and a bit of witty repartee with the actresses; they become another character in the story.

The play is part biography, part reminiscence, part concert, and always a tribute to a country music star who died tragically in a plane crash in 1963. It seems pretty clear that Ms. Petroccia and Ms. Vonden Haar are enjoying themselves. The chemistry between them is infectious, the music is brilliant, and the audience benefits from it.