BWW Review: Patsy Cline Is Alive and Well and Dazzling at Maine State Music Theatre
About half way through the musical, Always, Patsy Cline, Louise says of the legendary singer, "She blew the roof off that old honky tonk!" And much the same could be said for the electric atmosphere at the Brunswick's Pickard Theater, where MSMT opened its 59th season with a dazzling production of the musical that includes twenty-seven songs made famous by the singer, who remains to this day - fifty-four years after her untimely death - a towering presence in the world of country and pop music.
With true bêtes de scène, Christine Mild as Patsy and Charis Leos as Louise, accompanied by a virtuoso band, performing an unforgettable songbook, this production delivers not only powerhouse vocal-dramatic values, but also offers the audience a vibrant and poignant journey to another time and place that magically come alive through in the charismatic story of its protagonists. The Ted Swindley musical which focuses on the last six years of Patsy Cline's life and on her friendship with a Texas divorcee and fan, Louise Seger, is so much more than a catalog of songs strung together by a chronological narrative. Indeed, the book is touching well-constructed - funny, sad, warm and human by turns - and the songs are integrated into the story with a seamlessness that lets the play move from reality to memory.
Last done at MSMT in 2010, this entirely new production created in association with the Fulton Theatre and co-directed and choreographed by Marc Robin and Curt Dale Clark, takes the musical to a whole new level of sophistication and stature - one that is big, grand, yet at the same time intensely human and intimate. The pacing is fluid; the comedy skillfully balances the intensity of the music, and the two principals engage the audience and bring them into the story and the milieu. Robin and Clark create smooth transitions from past to present, story to song, and reality to remembrance.
The set by WilLiam James Mohney (Katelin Walsko's props) opts for a lush reality that conjures up the various locales of the play - the Grand Ole' Oprey, the Esquire Ballroom, Louise's kitchen and living room - which is then transformed into timeless moments of memory by the evocative lighting design of Matthew Demascolo. Brittany Leffler's costumes - especially those for Patsy - (as well las Anthony Laskoskie, Jr.'s wigs) take the audience on a parade through the years recreating outfits Patsy Cline wore from her girlish cowgirl costumes to the later elegance of her sequined gowns and the bold statements of her trouser ensembles. They are beautiful and as colorful and characterful as the singer. Sound Designer Shannon Slaton and Sound Effects Designer Jacob Mishler round out the creative team and provide a thrilling, well-balanced acoustic that captures the recorded and live sound of the era.
Yet, for all these considerable virtues, Always, Patsy Cline is a show in which the music is paramount, and MSMT's production delivers one of the finest musical-vocal packages in recent memory. The six-person band led by the versatile Music Director Patrick Fanning is nothing short of brilliant. Their idiomatic grasp of the material is masterful, and they provide a dynamic presence throughout the evening.
The two performers are deliciously perfect in every way. Christine Mild is an absolutely incomparable Patsy Cline. A vocal dynamo, she possesses a rich, expressive, technically and emotionally exciting delivery that seems almost to channel Patsy Cline in every sound and gesture, and she fills the house with a charismatic presence that is impossible to resist. Charis Leos recreates her Louise with her inimitable flair for perfect comedy. She is sassy, sweet, silly, quirky, and REAL. She makes this Texas single mother a completely credible and embraceable character that justifies Patsy's line "I do believe the good Lord broke the mold when her made you, Louise!" And while she does most of the talking and Mild most of the singing, in the few short duets they have, we are treated to two phenomenal performers who remind us of what great musical theatre is.
With Always, Patsy Cline, MSMT launches another new season - one that comes on the heels of the record-breaking success of 2016 - and with that all the risks and demands for new achievements. If this production - (and, indeed, every detail of opening night from a classy pre-show presentation to all the performance packaging) - is any indication, this is a company and a creative leadership which continue to redefine the definition of excellence and continue to fulfill Artistic Director Curt Dale Clark's vision to "be the best we possibly can be in everything we do." MSMT's revival of the much-requested Always, Patsy Cline demonstrates the distinctiveness of this Maine theatre. The production now on stage at the Pickard is not only original, but bigger, better, truer, and more all-embracing than its predecessor. So even if one has seen it before, there is ample reason to see it again, and if one has never seen it, this show is an absolute must!
Photos courtesy of MSMT and the Fulton Theatre
Always, Patsy Cline runs from June 7- June 24 at MSMT's Pickard Theater, 1 Bath Rd., Brunswick, ME 207-725-8769 www.msmt.org Tickets are selling fast, but two additional matinees have been added with seating availability.