Pollard Theatre's ALWAYS...PATSY CLINE is Pure Perfection
There's no denying it. It is really, really hot outside. Summer has arrived in full force and the days in the mid-nineties with high humidity have taken over. These are the kind of days that make you want to get inside a dark, air conditioned theater or cinema and spend a few hours enjoying some entertainment that makes you forget about the heat outside and all your other troubles, too. Pollard Theatre in Guthrie is currently providing the perfect opportunity for just that with its production of Always...Patsy Cline, a show that goes down like a tall, ice cold glass of perfectly sweetened lemonade on a scorching summer day.
Created and originally directed by Ted Swindley, Always...Patsy Cline is a wonderfully uncomplicated show. Much like that perfect glass of lemonade, it needs very few ingredients. In this case, it's two actresses and a band, and not much else. One of the actresses plays the titular country music icon and the other is what might be called a "superfan" named Louise. At times, the show feels like a musical revue or "best of" concert featuring all of Cline's famous and not-as-famous tunes, but there is a plot running through the proceedings. Louise, the narrator, tells the story of how she first discovered Patsy Cline, fell in love with her music and then had the opportunity to see the singer live in concert. She relates how that concert experience actually led her to form a strong and lasting bond with Patsy, with whom she remained friends until Cline's untimely death at a young age.
Swindley does a wonderful job here of bringing to life the true story of the real-life relationship between Patsy Cline and Houston housewife Louise Seger. Louise is a very relatable, very human character as presented on stage, one that every audience member can recognize and relate to. She's easily someone the audience can fall in love with and root for. Swindley's version of Patsy Cline is just as well executed. He fills her with a real humanness, approachability and believable depth of emotion. She doesn't just stand there and sing, she also interacts with Louise and her band in ways that make audience members either want to know her better or fall in love with her again.
On the other hand, Swindley does have his Patsy do plenty of singing and it's woven through the show in perfect ways. The songs never feel forced or shoehorned into the musical, they come and go feeling very organic and well-earned. All of the classics are here, including "Crazy," "I Fall to Pieces," "Walkin After Midnight," and many others. It's a brilliantly realized combination of a play about Patsy Cline and her music, giving both the singer as a person and the songs she sang equal time and weight.
Director Timothy Stewart doesn't get crazy with anything here, letting the singing, music, writing and acting carry the day. Everything feels organic and natural, with few moments that indicate there's even a director's hand at work. That's meant as a compliment, as some of the best direction is the kind that you don't even know is happening. Stewart also keeps things moving at a good pace, while letting things slow down and breathe when called for, and he mostly makes sure that the laugh lines and comic bits land as they are meant to (the misses may have been more due to the audience than the delivery of the line or moment).
Stewart's small but powerful cast is made up of two actresses who work perfectly together from start to finish. Jodi Nestander plays Louise with lots of sass and attitude. Her colorful, glittery costume matches her colorful and sparkling personality as Louise, who may be just a little crazy and we love her for it. Her comic timing is impeccable and her interactions with the audience are always very funny. When she's called upon to hit some real emotional depths at the play's end, she delivers the moment perfectly, sending chills and bringing a tear to the eye of many an audience member.
As Patsy Cline, Kara Chapman is a sheer force of nature. With the perfect voice, she brings Patsy to very real life and does it with seeming ease, making every moment look effortless. She nails every song in Patsy's repertoire, from the slow ballads to the faster-paced toe-tappers. There are also some great moments of comedy, which Chapman nails, when Patsy interacts with Louise and her band. She could clearly play this role any time, at any theater, for as long as she wants, and audiences will be better off for it.
Patsy and Louise are joined on stage by an excellent band, including music director Todd S. Malicoate on keyboard, Jason Hunt on bass, Aaron Marshall on drums and Bart Varner on the fiddle. They are the perfect accompaniment to the rest of the proceedings on stage. While Michael James' costume designs are also perfectly complimentary to the show and its characters, the set by Michael James is odd and distracting, not really representing any particular location and painted an odd choice of blue and brown swirls.
There are lots of places we can go to get out of the summer heat, but there's something special about seeing live live theater. Something about that experience of sitting in an audience, with the house lights off, surrounded by strangers with whom we will share a special and unique experience. Pollard's production provides that experience at the highest level with this production, a fun, entertaining, breezy, wonderful way to spend a summer afternoon or evening.
Always... Patsy Cline runs June 8th through 30th at the Pollard Theatre. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Thursdays June 21st and 28th at 8:00 pm and Sundays June 17th and 24th at 2:00 pm. Tickets are available online at www.thepollard.org, by phone at 405-282-2800, or at the Pollard Box Office, 120 W. Harrison Ave, Guthrie, Oklahoma.
Pictured (L to R): Kara Chapman and Jodi Nestander