Opening to an enthusiastic audience at the Walnut Street Theatre Independence Studio 3 is Always. . .Patsy Cline. Featuring 27 songs made famous by this legendary, velvet throated country singer, the musical is a story of friendship between two women – Miss Patsy Cline and her number one fan, Louise Seger, a housewife from Houston, Texas. As part of the early 1960’s Nashville sound, Cline successfully crossed over to pop music and became one of the most influential and acclaimed vocalists of the 20th Century, paving the way for women as headline performers in the genre .
Created by Ted Swindley, Artistic Director at Stages Repertory Theatre in Houston, Texas in 1988, it was originally performed as a 45 minute cabaret. In 1990 he created the full length version which eventually ran Off-Broadway in 1997. You will hear a litany of classic country tunes such as: Crazy, Walkin’ After Midnight, I Fall to Pieces, Back in Baby’s Arms, Lovesick Blues and She’s Got You. Patsy also sings the famous Cole Porter tune, True Love.
Though the piece in and of itself is nothing more than a series of songs and monologues, it has been transformed into quite another entity by the creative direction of Debi Marcucci. From the outset, Ms. Marcucci said she strove to highlight the friendship that developed between these two very different women through their letters and visits. She’s achieved this by intertwining some of the events. Patsy sings some of her numbers in Louise’s sunny, yellow kitchen or clad in a bathrobe when she stays over Louise’s house. Conversely, when Patsy performs at the Esquire Ballroom, Louise is not only there giving her adoring moral support as she slugs down a Schlitz, but actually lends a hand by leading the band.
But above and beyond the clever reinvention by the director – what ultimately makes this intimate musical cook are the two powerhouse performances by Jenny Lee Stern as Patsy Cline and Denise Whelan as Louise. Ms. Stern is not only possessed of a phenomenal vocal instrument – but she uses it in such a way as to evoke the spirit of Patsy Cline without total mimicry. Ms. Stern sings no song in quite the same way. She will have moments of softness and quiet tenderness and then let loose with a raucous, husky vitality. This being said, she has had the advantage of playing this role several times previously and with good reason – for she blows the roof off! Ms. Whelan, as the narrator and monologist, has the weight of the whole play upon her shoulders. But she bears this burden with great aplomb and manages to squeeze every laugh out of every bit that she can. I don’t remember ever seeing a Louise as funny as she. Because of the intimate nature of the Studio space itself, both actresses have been encouraged to incorporate the audience into the action and of course the audience just eats this up.
There are two other important members in this production: First, the Musical and Vocal Director who is also the accompanist on the piano, Billy Thompson, who never stops playing all evening and secondly, Spiff Wiegand a one man band who plays violin, guitar, pedal steel guitar, harmonica and with his feet, bass drum, maraca and cigar box. Both gentleman are on stage all night and also sing back-up vocals. For just two guys, they make a heck of a lot of noise. The set by Glen Sears is warm, vibrant and well thought out with the limited space available. And the costumes by Mark Mariani are flashy and fun.
I can’t think of a better, more entertaining way to spend an evening than to visit with Patsy and Louise at the Walnut. And if you take a seat at one of the café tables on the floor, you might even get in on the action. My prediction is that this little show, though scheduled to close July 3rd , may be extended. Well, here’s hoping.
For tickets/info call 215-574-3550 or go to www.WalnutStreetTheatre.org or Ticketmaster
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