BWW Reviews: ALWAYS PATSY CLINE Offers Lots of Love at the El Portal
Always Patsy Cline/written & originally directed by Ted Swindley/El Portal Mainstage/through August 3
Popular across the country for the past decade, Always Patsy Cline celebrates country/pop superstar Patsy Cline, her music and her warm down.to.earth persona. Endearing from the get go it stars the very funny and endearing Sally Struthers as Texas housewife Louise Seger and Carter Calvert as Cline. With the overabundant charm exuded by both stars and backed by a superb five-piece combo that includes John Randall at the piano and Roger Cohen, Calvert's husband, on drums, Always Patsy Cline should take audiences over the moon, through August 3 only.
When I was a kid growing up in Massachusetts I saw the Arthur Godfrey Show on TV and was, like Louise in the play, overwhelmed by the voice and presence of Patsy Cline. Once you saw and heard her, you never forgot her. She was that one.of.a.kind singing sensation that you could sit and listen to all night and again all day, on the radio or victrola. She didn't just sing, but something happened when she spoke the lyrics and told the story; the song transformed into something poetic, a little love letter from her to you. Never professionally trained nor versatile in reading music, Patsy sang from the heart, but her light dimmed much too soon. After only 6 years from 1957 to 1963, she died in a plane crash and left all of us clinging to her records as the vestiges of her soul ... the music that would never die.
The play with songs by Ted Swindley is a testament to the power of Cline through her voice and magnificent presence. It takes an actress/singer of tremendous vitality and skill to play her. Carter Calvert is that special person. When you close your eyes, you could swear you were listening to Cline. And the presence? She's a beautiful woman, and with the right black wig inhabits Patsy from the ground up, from the inside out. "Back in Baby's Arms", "Walkin' After Midnight", "I Fall to Pieces", "Sweet Dreams", "Crazy" "Your Cheatin' Heart", "Honky Tonk Angels", and the beautiful "If I Could See the World Through the Eyes of a Child" by Sammy Masters and Richard Pope; they are all here vibrant and alive and full of the spark and understanding of love that was Patsy Cline. Brava, Carter Calvert!
And then there's Sally Struthers who narrates the play and presents the vision that many of us already know or feel about Patsy, but we want to hear it again and again.. Her Louise is screamingly funny and full of the devil... that tell it like it is cousin or next door neighbor that you always treasured and loved, that you could tell your troubles to and count on as a a confidante. Struthers makes Louise transcend the ordinary...an earth mother/goddess.
There are times that Struthers goes over the top with the comedy, like when she pretends to conduct the band. She's up on the bandstand as an excuse to keep the drummer in line, at Patsy's request, so he does not overpower her vocal control. In these moments it almost seems like she's upstaging Calvert as she sings, but all is forgiven, because it's all in the game, all part of the entertainment and we accept it and Struthers with love. As she ages, she's reminding me more and more of Martha Raye, who also knew how to speak her mind and simultaneously hold the audience in the palm of her hand. She loves her audience and they love her right back. When a man coughed, she looked in his direction and said, "I'd see a doctor about that tomorrow." Brava, Sally Struthers!
This play is based on a true story and it is no wonder that Patsy instantly befriended Louise, and Louise, Patsy. Their genuine wholesome qualities serve as magnets. Always Patsy Cline is a letter of love to the music and humanity of Miss Patsy Cline and for those that truly loved her... and that includes just about the whole world.