BWW Review: ALWAYS...PATSY CLINE at Sharon Playhouse
On Saturday, August 18, I had the pleasure of seeing the acting superstardom of Alison Arngrim and Carter Calvert at the Sharon Playhouse, in Sharon, CT. Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson from Little House on the Prairie) and Carter Calvert portray Louise Seger and Patsy Cline, respectively, in the Ted Swindley comedic musical entitled Always...Patsy Cline, a show wonderfully directed by Alan M-L Wager. This musical is a superb experience for cast, crew, and audience!
Always...Patsy Cline depicts the true story regarding Louise Seger who starts as a huge fan of Patsy Cline, but soon gets a chance to meet Patsy and become her friend. The show starts with Louise narrating to the audience, as Patsy sings various songs. Louise remains the narrator throughout the majority of the show, with constant comedic details about true events in her life.
The stage is set up so that Louise and Patsy are usually towards the front of the stage, while the talented band is slightly elevated in the back of the stage. Musical Director Eric Thomas Johnson plays the keyboard, while Bruce Carlson, Roger Cohen, Elizabeth Handman, Mike Lee, and Steve Siktberg round out the band on pedal steel guitar, drums, fiddle, bass, and electric guitar, respectively. The band does a phenomenal job during the show, and during intermission when they spontaneously performed some improvised instrumental numbers that kept the audience engaged and entertained just prior to the start of the second act.
Alison Arngrim takes the stage by storm with amazing stage presence and positive energy that spreads through the audience in such a powerful way that we are hanging on every word she speaks. Alison Arngrim's delivery is simultaneously convincing and comedic, truly reflecting the mindset and actions of an eccentric fan who is obsessed with a particular celebrity. She excels in her use of a strong southern drawl and open manner of speaking, including many sudden deliberate vocal tone shifts with volume changes to create the desired dramatic effects.
Carter Calvert has a very strong singing voice, reminiscent of the female country singers of the 1960s. She sings with passion, selling every note and lyric in a manner that is impressive to all the audience members, regardless of whether we previously were Patsy Cline fans. Carter Calvert even displayed the prudence to pause for a few seconds during one of her songs, in order to allow the sound of thunder outside to pass.
The chemistry and dynamics between Alison and Carter create the intended sense of friendship and camaraderie that existed between Louise and Patsy. The audience can feel the strong and convincing bond between the two, reflected in the actresses' interactions and reactions towards each other. Louise joins Patsy in the singing on several numbers, which makes them seem like a natural duet.
The fourth wall does not exist, with audience participation being a part of the show. The theater audience is viewed upon as the real audience to which Patsy Cline is playing towards in a live concert, while the band is treated as the real band backing Patsy Cline in that live concert.
A major comedic highlight of the first act is the musical number that follows Patsy telling Louise to watch Patsy's drummer and make sure that he does not speed up the song's tempo. Louise responds by essentially taking control of the entire band, running around on stage between the band members, conducting, and giving stern and specific orders to the band members. Louise's dedicated and spirited approach that goes above and beyond her stated responsibility to the band is brilliantly performed by Alison Arngrim, in a way reminiscent of Lucille Ball era comedy, rooted in the established high energy personality of a highly likeable character portrayed by a skilled actress.
A comedic highlight in the second act is during a song called, "Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray." As Patsy is singing the song, Louise is making sarcastic comments after nearly every line. Louise's remarks are not attempts at heckling Patsy's song, but instead come across as humorously blunt elaboration in agreement with the lyrics.
Both actresses remain in character at all times that they are up on stage. This enables them to smoothly adapt and run with the unexpected, keeping the show strong in both acts, and the audience constantly delighted with what we see and hear on stage.
I highly recommend Always...Patsy Cline which continues the consistent pattern of first-rate productions that can be expected every time at the Sharon Playhouse. The professionalism, hard work, and high talent from the cast, band, and crew at the Sharon Playhouse have truly made this show an absolute masterpiece. For times and tickets to see Always...Patsy Cline, please go to https://www.sharonplayhouse.org/.