Play: A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline
Group: Triangle Productions
Venue: Ivory Theatre, 7620 Michigan Avenue
Dates: Nightly except Mondays through Feb. 16
Tickets: $25 and $30; contact 314-534-1111 or www.metrotix.com
Story: It’s March 5, 1963 and a disc jockey is spinning platters at radio station WINC in Winchester, Virginia. That happens to be the home town of Virginia Hensley, a high-spirited gal who quit school at age 15 to help her single mother make ends meet for the family of four. Virginia subsequently began her career as a country singer by fearlessly joining the studio band at the station for a couple of tunes, impressing one and all with her clear delivery and self-confident manner.
Eventually Virginia married a fella named Cline and took on a manager who changed her first name to Patsy, and a star began to emerge. Traveling the back roads with her band, Patsy Cline eventually climbed to stardom, appearing on Arthur Godfrey’s TV talent show and performing at her beloved Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and even in Carnegie Hall before dying in a plane crash on March 5, 1963 while returning from a benefit performance.
Highlights: Dean Regan’s two-act show is a mostly enjoyable romp under the co-direction of Gail Bliss and Carolyn Rutherford Mayo. Bliss has portrayed Cline for nearly 3,000 performances, and Patsy’s widowed husband, Charlie Dick, has proclaimed Bliss’ performance "the best I’ve ever seen." In this case, familiarity breeds success, as Bliss is the personification of the legendary country crooner, the first female singer with hits on both the country and pop charts. She obviously has great fun playing the role, and belts out the tunes in ingratiating and entertaining fashion.
She’s joined by a terrific band comprised of bassist Andy Carroll, guitarist Eric Lewis, steel guitarist Russ Wever, fiddler Mark Baczynksi, drummer Brian Aylor and pianist Gary Butler, all splendid musicians who have their individual moments to shine. And Dan Embree brings an easy-going and smooth style to the DJ, keeping the story moving at a pleasant clip.
Musical highlights abound, from Willie Nelson’s Crazy to Hank Williams’ Your Cheatin’ Heart to Don Gibson’s Sweet Dreams to Irving Berlin’s Always as well as Patsy’s big hit, I Fall to Pieces, all done smoothly, whether rollicking backwoods numbers or lilting ballads.
Kudos also to sound designer Dave VanderKamp and set and lighting designer Dominique Gallo, who has put together a bright and stylish little set that showcases Patsy and the band, with the DJ narrating off to the side. Compliments also go to the unnamed costume designer for both the elegant (Patsy) and the garish (the hillbilly comic).
Other Info: The show is marred only by the unfunny antics of Embree as a pair of comedians, a country bumpkin type and a greasy Las Vegas stand-up comic. Although the material can be humorous and Embree is obviously a talented performer, the delivery is dreadful and even a bit offensive, albeit perhaps true to the tenor of the times in which it was first performed. The show would benefit greatly with the deletion of these dreadful interludes.
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.