Always…Patsy Cline (HIT Productions)
QUT Gardens Theatre
September 14 – 15
Despite her tragic death in a 1963 plane crash at only 30 years of age, American country singer Patsy Cline released over 100 songs in her career, so as tribute to the iconic star, “Always … Patsy Cline”, has many numbers from which to construct its soundtrack. Accordingly, songs occupy a substantial part of the show, in support of what is a relatively flimsy narrative; based on a true story, Patsy’s personal life is revealed though her unexpected friendship with a devoted Houston fan, Louise Seger (a story taken and expanded from a section of the Cline biography “Honky Tonk Angel” by Ellis Nassour).
While its lengthy Grand Ole Opry opening medley gets things off to a somewhat slow start, the audience soon learns more about the acclaimed vocalist through snippets of information about the hardworking and successful musical pioneer, including how she worked at a drugstore in her youth to help her mother provide for the family, while playing clubs at night in home-made cowgirl outfits. As Cline, award winning country music artist Courtney Conway tells us how she’s travelling soon to Vegas to do four shows a day seven days a week. It’s 1961 and she’s in Houston for a performance at the Esquire Ballroom, where, before the show, she meets Louise (popular stage star Mandi Lodge) in an encounter that turns into a correspondence that lasted until the singer’s tragic death. In their interaction, Cline reveals to Louise about her worries about attendance at the show and then, over late night bacon and eggs back at Louise’s house, the fading love of her troublesome second marriage. It is a close look into Cline’s daily life that continues as Louise reflects upon and rereads some of the later letters, always signed off with ‘Love Always…Patsy Cline’.
Even so, the show is not so much about the singer’s honky tonk merry-go-round life as its insight also into a fan’s genuine love. As the larger-than-life Louise, Lodge is engaging both on-stage and off, in enticement of audience members to dance along, and sections that see her tell of her excitement and planning to see Patsy on stage make for among the most entertaining moments, thanks to her effervescent characterisation. And her Texan accent is bang on with it y’alls and drawl. It is unfortunately that she is sometimes let down by lighting, which creates mood around the on-stage musicians but falls short in following as she mimes journeying in her ‘sexy dude’ Pontiac to arrive at the venue hours ahead of Patsy’s show.
Technical lapses can, however, be forgiven as this is a show all about its music. And with over two dozen of her hits, you don’t even have to be crazy for Cline to enjoy the classics like ‘I Fall to Pieces’, ‘Walkin’ After Midnight’ and her signature song and biggest pop hit ‘Crazy’. Upbeat numbers are peppered in between the rawly-emotive works with ‘Stupid Cupid’ and ‘Gotta Lotta Rhythm’ also featuring as highlights. As anticipated, Conway is vocally strong as Patsy, nuanced in her share of the early 1960s Nashville sound; every number is rich in tone and emotional expression, and authentic in experience thanks to the live ‘Band of Bobs’ that provide musical accompaniment.
Directed by AFI award winning Denny Lawrence, “Always…Patsy Cline” is a wonderful showcase of the beautiful, classic songs of a musical icon. And it comes of little surprise to read in its program of its great success all over the United States, including a successful run off-Broadway. (It has been one of the most produced musicals in America according to American Theatre Magazine.) For feature of its marvellous music, charming comedy and some fabulous frocks as costume, country music fans, in particular, should do-si-do themselves a favour and make sure to catch this tribute to an industry pioneer.