Donate Now to Support KDHX

Listen Live
Friday, 09 May 2014 18:15

'Always...Patsy Cline' perfectly captures the singer's essence

Written by Chuck Lavazzi
Rate this item
(1 Vote)

The Details

  • Director: Michael Hamilton
  • Dates: April 25 - June 22, 2014
'Always...Patsy Cline' perfectly captures the singer's essence
stagesstlouis.org / Peter Wochniak

I should state up front that I was never a fan of the late country singer Patsy Cline. I didn't dislike her music; I was indifferent towards it.

Photo: Peter Wochniak

When I was growing up, the soundtrack of our home was a mix of the European classics, vaudeville, the Great American Songbook, and the Big Band era. I was a city kid, and country music just didn't resonate with me. So when I say that I found the Stages production of "Always...Patsy Cline," as polished and entertaining as it was, to also be ephemeral and not very memorable, you'll understand that this is partly due to the fact that I didn't come to the show pre-sold on the music.

Largely, though, I think it's due to the fact that "Always...Patsy Cline" is not so much a book musical as a celebrity impersonation revue. The slight story line is based on a real-life 1961 incident in which Houston divorcee Louise Seger befriended Cline during an appearance at a local dance hall. The two became fast friends, and Ms. Seger's correspondence with Ms. Cline became the basis for the show's book by Ted Swindley. Louise clowns around, chats with the audience, and generally fills time between segments of Patsy singing over two dozen of her better-known songs. Neither character is written with much depth, which makes it hard to become truly involved in their story.

Fortunately the show is short—two hours, including intermission—and beautifully done, so it doesn't wear out its welcome. Jacqueline Petroccia, reprising the role of Patsy Cline from the original Stages production of the show in 2012, looks and sounds so much like the real Patsy Cline that it's sometimes startling. Lou Bird's costumes can take part of the credit for the look, of course, but Ms. Petroccia gets the lion's share of the praise for her unerring ability to capture Cline's vocal style and performance mannerisms. Close your eyes, and you'd swear it was Ms. Cline herself doing that characteristic semi-yodel in "Stupid Cupid" or that "cry in the voice" vocal break in songs like "Your Cheating Heart."

Yes, it's essentially a celebrity impersonation, but that makes it no less a brilliant piece of acting. In fact, I'd go so far as to suggest that a truly successful impersonation is in many ways harder than portraying a fictional character. If you're playing Hamlet, for example, there isn't going to be anyone in the house thinking, "hey, the real Hamlet didn't sound like that." Just saying.

As noted above, most of the narrative heavy lifting in "Always...Patsy Cline" falls to the actress playing Louise. That would be local favorite Zoe Vonder Haar, also reprising her 2012 role in fine style. Ms. Vonder Haar's Louise is a big, bawdy, engaging good ol' girl, from the top of her red period wig to the bottom of her cowboy boots. It's impossible not to like her, and there seems to be real chemistry between her and Ms. Patroccia's Patsy. It takes a pair of strong singing actresses to carry this show, and Stages certainly has them.

Interestingly, the real-life Louise Seger was not entirely happy with her stage persona. “I’ve never had red hair," she said in an interview for Country Weekly magazine in the 1990s. "I don’t wear tacky clothes or have that accent.” Stage Louise's devotion to Patsy and overall good-humored decency, though, are apparently true to life.

Musical and (occasionally) vocal accompaniment comes from a solid six-piece band headed (the night we saw the show) by the ever-reliable Justin Smolik on keyboards (subbing for Musical Director Lisa Campbell Albert). The other principal band members are John Higgins on pedal steel guitar, Jon Ferber on electric lead guitar, Kevin Buckley on fiddle and acoustic guitar, Vince Corkery on electric bass, and Don Drewett on drums. They sounded great and the vocal/instrumental mix was perfect.

James Wolk has put together a colorful and convincingly period set, with Louise's kitchen and living room in front and a raised stage for Patsy Cline's singing engagements at the back, behind a scrim. The set stretches across a wide but shallow stage that appears to take up about half of the Playhouse's auditorium, turning the original "in the round" space into a semicircle with the audience seated in a rectangle. That probably makes for some odd viewing angles if you're seated down front; from where we were in the back, though, sight lines were fine.

Stages Artistic Director Michael Hamilton has done a fine job putting everything together into a seamless whole, with clear, character-driving blocking and brisk pacing. The bottom line is that "Always...Patsy Cline" is an entertaining tribute to a singer who was with us all too briefly (Cline died in a plane crash in 1963 at age 30) and certainly a "must see" for fans of Ms. Cline and country music in general. Performances continue at the Playhouse at Westport Plaza through June 22nd. For more information: stagesstlouis.org.

P.S.: Am I the only one who thinks Merle Haggard's 1969 hit "Okie From Muskogee" is almost a note-for-note copy of "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels"? Just wondering.

Additional Info

  • Director: Michael Hamilton
  • Dates: April 25 - June 22, 2014

Sponsor Message

Become a Sponsor

Find KDHX Online

KDHX on Instagram
KDHX on YouTube
KDHX on SoundCloud
KDHX on Facebook
KDHX on Twitter
KDHX on flickr

Local Artist Spotlight


Dad Jr: Get Down. Hard.

Sun June 29

Graham Pagano

Mon June 23
Graham Pagano's debut album Quit Complaining is a high charged mix of old and new music. his old blues and classic country feel blended up with a rock and roll attitude makes this stripped down album explode…

KDHX Recommends

July
Saturday
26

Genevieve at Harvest Sessions 2014

Genevieve at Harvest Sessions 2014 Harvest Sessions welcomes Genevieve -- featuring Rebecca Ryan and Leslie Sanazaro -- to the West Pool Pavilion for a morning of acoustic music. This free Saturday morning concert series takes place at the Tower Grove Farmers'...


July
Sunday
27

88.1 KDHX Musical Merry-Go-Round Welcomes Sugar Free All-Stars

88.1 KDHX Musical Merry-Go-Round Welcomes Sugar Free All-Stars 88.1 KDHX Musical Merry-Go-Round welcomes Sugar Free All-Stars for a family matinee Sunday, July 27 at Noon. Kids under two are free. $8 advance tickets on sale now. Tickets available at the door for $10. Kids under two are free. For...


July
Thursday
31

Bradford Lee Folk & The Bluegrass Playboys

Bradford Lee Folk & The Bluegrass Playboys KDHX presents Bradford Lee Folk & The Bluegrass Playboys at The Stage, July 31 at 8pm. Tickets available online.   Born in Louisiana and raised in Missouri, Folk remembers watching his Dad pick the country blues on a...


Get Answers!

If you have questions or need to contact KDHX, visit our answers portal at answers.kdhx.org.

Online Users

1 user and 8280 guests online
Sign in with Facebook

SYSTEM: S5 Box

Login/My Account

Sign in with Facebook