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BWW Review: ALWAYS....PATSY CLINE at Desert Theatreworks

Part celebrity concert, part story of warm friendship, all entertainment!

BWW Review: ALWAYS....PATSY CLINE at Desert Theatreworks

In the past two decades I have had several opportunities to see Always, Patsy Cline and I always avoided the show, thinking "A two-woman show can't be entertaining and besides, I don't like country music." Please, please do not make the mistake I did. This show has only a few more performances in the Coachella Valley, and it is an incredibly entertaining and moving experience. Part celebrity concert, part Hallmark heart-warming tale, Desert Theatreworks' current production is a must-see!

The story finds Patsy Cline fairly early in her short career (she was killed in a plane accident at age 30). She has appeared on national television frequently on the Grand Old Opry, but is still trudging across the country playing dives with a different group of local musicians each night. When Louise Segar, a super fan, learns that Patsy is going to play at a bar in her town, she drags co-workers and friends with her to see the performance, arriving hours early. Being so early, she manages to actually meet Patsy Cline, and something between them clicks. The women genuinely enjoy chatting about their lives, their children, their dreams. Patsy asks Louise to stay near the drummer during the evening's performance and make sure the band doesn't go too fast during her songs. They have so much fun working together that Louise volunteers to make Patsy ham and eggs at home after the concert, and drags her into the local radio station the next morning. They continued their friendship over the ensuing years by correspondence with the star signing all her letters, "Always, Patsy Cline." The play is based on these letters.

Desert Theatreworks has cast two different women alternating performances as Patsy because the actress is required to sing 27 songs. In fact, the only times she is offstage, she is quickly changing costumes. The night I saw it, Patsy was played by Kelly McDaniel and between the wig, costumes and expressions, it was easy to believe I was seeing Cline herself on the stage. And yes, she gave full justice to Cline's vocals including "Crazy," "I Fall to Pieces," and the one that has resounded in my ear the past week, "Out Walking After Midnight." The other actress playing the role is Emily Unnasch, who was outstanding earlier this season as Ulla in The Producers. I enjoyed the show so much that I plan to see it again, and will schedule one of Unnasch's performances.

And every bit an equal force to Cline is Yo Younger, one of the Coachella Valley's most celebrated actresses, as Louise Seger. I have seen Younger in such dramatic roles as Blanche in Streetcar and Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but here she totally embodies a feisty country fan who phones the local radio station every morning asking for various Patsy Cline recordings. During the play, she breaks the fourth wall by addressing us directly, describing the first time she ever heard Patsy on the television, how she found out about the local performance, talked her friends into joining her, etc. Younger is having so much outrageous fun with this character that it's impossible for us not to join in her unbridled enthusiasm. The character as interpreted by Younger simply doesn't have a limiter or a filter.

Director Michael Pacas has set a brisk pace for his ladies and it was hard to believe that the show was actually two hours long. It was exciting enjoyment from beginning to end. Some visual highlights were Louise sitting on the floor with her feet extended towards the television set the first time she sees her idol on the screen, and the enthusiasm with which she carries out Patsy's request to keep the drummer in check during the star's local performance.

Artistic Director Lance Phillips continues to deliver top quality on the theatre's set designs. A raised platform spans the width of the stage with a 50's microphone at the center. The four piece band sits upstage. The walls and false proscenium all appear to be corrugated tin, appropriate for a southern dive bar. Downstage of the platform are two tables with chairs. One serves as the viewing table for the local bar, the other is in Louise's kitchen. Director Pacas has used the set effectively, especially at the end when we know we are seeing Patsy for the final time and she exits through a door on a raised platform at the side of the stage.

Having the performance accompanied by a live band really helped the credibility. Conducting from the piano was Douglas C. Wilson with Marypaz Holguin on bass, Sean Poe on drums, and Jannine Manthey giving some country realism on the fiddle.

Always, Patsy Cline continues through February 6 with performances Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets and further information are available at dtworks.org. Per local requirements, proof of vaccination will be required at the door, and masks must be worn at all times except when actively eating or drinking. And frankly, thinking about how enjoyable this production was has me eager to get back to see "the other Patsy!"

Photo by Paul Hayashi



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