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BWW Reviews: ALWAYS...PATSY CLINE is Good Fun at Broadway Rose

Two immensely talented actresses working their hearts out to entertain, backed by a solid country-swing band, playing to a packed house...what a way to start my tenure as's new Portland correspondent.

Always...Patsy Cline is not meant to be a thoughtful evening of theater. It's a rowdy comedy built around the music catalogue of Ms. Cline and the memories of a passionate fan who met her one night before a concert. Louise (Sharon Maroney) becomes obsessed when she hears Patsy sing on television and later on radio, and drives her local country DJ crazy requesting "I Fall to Pieces." Eventually Patsy (Sara Catherine Wheatley) comes to town, and Louise is so excited she arrives at the concert early. She spots Patsy alone across the room, works up the nerve to say hello, and the two women strike up a friendship.

That's the story. Louise is a good-old gal who tries not to think about the heartbreak in her life. She dresses in bright, jagged colors and jokes with the audience about her luck with men, her driving, and her looks. She narrates the tale in her down-home way, giving cues for Patsy to sing. (There are twenty-eight songs included in the show.) Patsy doesn't say much, but she clowns a bit with Louise, and you end up liking her because Louise likes her.

Both actresses bring great joy to the show. Maroney is onstage almost nonstop, and she dances, narrates, jokes, sings, and even dances with an audience member. It's a marathon of a part, and she never grows tiresome or stale. Wheatley is a phenomenal singer, and she too has a huge part, changing costumes over and over and singing song after song. The two work well together, and the audience falls in love with both of them. Director Chan Harris keeps the show moving, one anecdote flowing into the next, the songs springing up one after another.

A few times the show feels like it wants to go into the deeper feelings brought up by some of Patsy's songs. Passing mention is made of her marital woes, and Wheatley sings a wonderful version of "Crazy," but the script moves quickly on to other things. That's fine, since this is clearly an entertainment piece, but it's also a shame that these talented women aren't allowed to dig more deeply into their characters. I also felt that Wheatley was constrained by having to sing all evening as Patsy Cline; she impresses me as having the talent to sing more powerfully and persuasively when not trapped inside an impersonation. (I guess I'll find out soon; she's scheduled to appear in Broadway Rose's production of Cats.)

The band was excellent, playing nonstop (even before the show) and joining in on jokes and schtick. Scenic and lighting designer Gene Dent created a versatile unit set, looking like Louise's kitchen but able to become anywhere at all thanks to the clever use of film projections. A few of the backgrounds were generic and felt like what you'd see on karaoke night, but there was a spectacular effect just before intermission showing Wheatley smiling and waving from several of Patsy's album covers.

Costume designer Shana Targosz did wonderful work throughout; her wacky designs for Louise (think Peg Bundy crossed with Dolly Parton) were hilariously right, and her many looks for Patsy, from cowgirl outfit to pink traveling suit, were beautiful, appropriate for the period, and totally in character (except for a ball gown in the final scene, which just didn't fit Wheatley well).

Always...Patsy Cline is a fine evening's entertainment-good music and good company, a little truth, and a lot of good fun.

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