Review: ALWAYS...PATSY CLINE at Great Lakes Theater

If you love country music, ALWAYS...PATSY CLINE is for you!

By: Apr. 29, 2024
Review: ALWAYS...PATSY CLINE at Great Lakes Theater
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Juke box musicals are stage theatrical presentations in which a majority of the compositions were written before the presentation was conceived, rather than being original music conceived for that show.  They tend to be long on songs and short on a well-conceived plot.

Shows in this classification are MAMA MIA, MOULIN ROUGE, JERSEY BOYS and ROCK OF AGES.  Each of these has a score composed of well-known songs, shoe-horned into a plot, which may be real, fictional, or a combination of reality and make-believe.

ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE, now on stage at the Hanna Theatre, where it is being produced by Great Lakes Theater, as part of its Kulas Musical Theater Series, is an example of the Juke box musical genre.

Created, and originally directed by Ted Swindley, the GLT production is competently directed by Victoria Bussert.  
It tells the “truish” story of “Patsy Cline’s friendship with a fan, Louise Seger, which started in 1961, when Cline was in her late 20s, and continued until her death in a plane crash, at age 30. 

Told through Cline’s music, the tribute features 27 songs and many of her hits such as “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Sweet Dreams” and “Walking After Midnight.”

In spite of having only an eight-year career, Cline, whose given name was Virginia Hensley, is considered to be one of the influential vocalists of the 20th century.  She was “one of the first country music artists to cross over into pop music.”

She was a member of the Grand OIe Opry.  The 1961 single, “I Fall to Pieces” was her first song to top the “Billboard” country chart.  This was followed by the smash hit “Crazy,” recorded after she recovered from the effects of a car accident.
 
In 1973, she became the first female performer to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.”  Her version of "Always" made the Billboard country chart in 1980.
 
Don’t expect any of these facts to be presented in ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE.  With the slight storyline, centering on her short-termed friendship with Louise Seger, who heard her on a television show and became infatuated with her, the musical is more concert than play.  
 
“The pair met while Cline was performing at the Esquire Ballroom in Houston, Texas. Seger brought Cline home following the show and they spent the night together. The pair would remain in contact through letters before Cline's death. Much of the script relied on the letters exchanged between the two during the course of several years. Seger acts as the show's narrator and revisits memories she shared with Cline through their letter exchanges.”
 
After an off-Broadway production, the musical went on to become a smash hit In Chicago and repeated its success in Virginia and Denver.  All three were blessed with extended runs.  
 
The GLT production, as evidenced by the joyous reaction of the audience the afternoon I saw the show, was peopled by fans of Cline.  Many sang out or did lip-sinks to the presentations by Christina Rose Hall, who portrayed the country star.  
 
I must admit not to be either a country music fan, nor a follower of Cline, so I can only react from a dramaturgy and staging perspective.  
 
I found the script shallow, underdeveloped, often trite in parts.  I don’t think all the intricacies and interesting aspects of her life, which I found in researching Ms. Cline, were developed.  I don’t think the “play” told us the “real” story of the woman, who was a leader in her field and obviously, very talented.  It centered on a quick segment of her life, leaving me frustrated, wanting to know more of her and less emotional manipulation.
 
From a musical standpoint.  Musical director Mathew Webb, as we have become accustomed to expect of this talented musician, did a fine job of developing the right musical sounds and had his musicians underscoring, rather than playing full out, thus allowing the audience to hear the lyrics to the songs.  Lyrics which carried meaning and told important messages about Cline.
 
Both Christina Rose Hall (Patsy) and Harmony France (Louise) have fine singing voices.
 
France has a nice touch with comic timing.  
 
Hall facially resembles Cline, but It is difficult to accept her as being the right age image for the role.  As the man sitting next to me, who was obviously well-versed in his “Patsy Cline,” emphatically stated, “She’s too long-in-tooth for the role!”  I also wish she had emotionally “let loose” in some of her songs.  After a while, they all sounded the same.
 
Capsule judgment: Hey, “Stupid Cupid,” if you have “True Love” for country music, you’ll have “Sweet Dreams” and feel “True Love” when you think back to having seen ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE.  For the rest of us, “Come on In and Make Yourself at Home” and realize that you are not “Crazy” for being a semi-fan and not echoing the Patsyites yelling, “How Great Thou Art.”
 
ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE runs at Great Lakes Theater from April 26 through May 19, 2024.  For tickets go to  https://www.greatlakestheater.org  or call (216) 241-6000.
 




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