SALT LAKE CITY – Ted Swindley’s Always… Patsy Cline has swept the nation since its debut in 1988, much like Patsy Cline herself in the 1950’s and 60’s. Directed by Richard Scott, the Grand Theatre’s production is top notch, providing a fun experience that honors a legacy.
Always… Patsy Cline pays tribute to, of course, the famous “Queen of Country Music,” Patsy Cline (played by Erica Hansen). The musical is made up of songs that are almost entirely those of Patsy Cline, including chart topping hits such as “I Fall to Pieces” and “Crazy.” The musical not only recalls Cline’s music, but offers an inside look into a special friendship with one devoted fan, Louise Seger (played by Toni Byrd), before Cline’s untimely death in 1963.
Reprising the role of Patsy Cline, Erica Hansen is fabulous. She has an incredibly fun energy about her that is enticing. It is clear she is gifted in the art of performance and is a natural on stage. Even though I am not a huge country music fan, Hansen’s performance made me want to listen and engage with her. As a professional vocalist, Hansen’s smooth voice is perfect for the role of Patsy Cline, reflecting the old country genre very nicely. Hansen is limited within her character, however, in that she does not have much opportunity to act beyond the singer persona she is portraying. This is largely due to the structure of the musical being set up more like a concert than a traditional musical. Although I see the value in this, I wished for a little bit more connection with the character.
Toni Byrd as Louise, on the other hand, was able to create a very distinguished character. As the story is told primarily through Louise’s memories, Byrd was excellent at painting a picture for the audience through her acting. Her strong body language and facial expressions truly depicted the descriptive text, and I could always vividly imagine what she was describing. It was also impressive to feel the extreme excitement Byrd portrayed as an impassioned fan. As the show’s protagonist and seemingly true central character, Byrd provided most of the comedy in the show with her sassy and humorous personality. She was equally as fun and energetic as Hansen, and the pair made a great team. My favorite moments were when both characters were onstage, engaging with each other where I could see their friendship bloom, such as when they were dancing around Louise’s kitchen. Both actors skillfully embodied the characters they created. Whether or not Hansen, for example, truly personified Patsy Cline, I cannot say, though it was refreshing to see such notable talent.
Both Hansen and Byrd were great at getting the audience involved and building an exciting rapport. With some audience participation and the frequent absence of a fourth wall, the two actors were able to interact with the audience and generate a lively environment. With the accompaniment of the impressive live band on stage, The Bodacious Bobcats Band, I consistently found myself tapping my foot and feeling the urge to dance and sing, both of which were permitted at times. The band also emitted a brimming energy that matched Cline’s vocals perfectly. There seemed to be a good balance between fast and slow songs throughout the show, providing plenty of active moments and then those that were relaxing and thoughtful.
From pictures that I have seen of Patsy Cline, Hansen certainly looked the part thanks to hair and make-up design by Yancey J. Quick and costume design by Thad Hansen and Amanda Raiser. I enjoyed how Louise’s costume remained the same throughout the show as she recounted the story, while Patsy’s changed frequently to transport the audience to a different moment in time.
Recommendations for Always…Patsy Cline are easier than most. If you’re a fan of Patsy Cline, this is definitely a show you do not want to miss. This show is also perfect for anyone who likes concerts and country music. However, if country music is not your thing, or if you prefer more traditionally structured musicals, this may be a show to decide to skip. Despite not being a huge country fan, though, I was able to have a fun and enjoyable time at the Grand Theatre’s polished and professional production. It was also enlightening to see a glimpse into the life of the famous musician whose music has inspired many, and whose career was undoubtedly cut too short.