Reviewed by Judy Richter
The life and career of crossover country singer Patsy Cline were cut tragically short by the crash of a light plane in 1963. Just 30 years old, she had achieved stardom only a few years earlier when she appeared on Arthur Godfrey's popular morning radio show in 1957. However, she had been singing ever since she was a teenager and recording since she was in her early 20s.
Written by Ted Swindley, "Always ... Patsy Cline" is based on a true story and is being presented by San Jose Stage Company. In 1961, Cline performed in Houston, where single mom Louise Seger was an ardent fan. Seger arrived at the concert venue so early that she had a chance to meet Cline and talk with her. Afterward she offered to give Cline, who was traveling alone, a ride to her hotel. First they went to her house for coffee, bacon and eggs. They talked for so long that Cline spent the night, and Seger took her to the airport the next morning. This encounter was the start of a friendship highlighted by an exchange of letters. Cline always signed hers, "Love always, Patsy Cline."
Based on this incident, the show's plot is thin, as is character development. It's really a frame around which to build a revue of about two dozen songs that Cline performed during her career. Some of the best known (at least to a non-country-western fan like me) are "Crazy," "Walkin' After Midnight" and "Seven Lonely Days."
Cline is portrayed by Judith Miller, whose voice is darker with more vibrato than Cline's but who captures the essence of her style. Louise is played by the ebullient Marie Shell, who occasionally joins in on the songs. They're backed by a five-man, onstage band, directed by Don Dally, who also plays lead guitar and fiddle..
Direction is by Randall King and Rick Singleton. The simple set consists mainly of two tables, one of them representing Louise's kitchen table, plus the bandstand. Lighting is by Selina G Young with costumes by Jean Cardinale. Nion Dickson's sound design is too loud for San Jose Stage's intimate venue.