SANDY — I grew up listening to Patsy Cline and other country singers from her time, but I had not listened to Patsy Cline’s music in a long time. After attending Hale Center Theatre’s production of Always… Patsy Cline, directed by Kelly DeHaan, I have been reminded of just how much I love Patsy Cline’s music. I am so glad that took a chance on a show I was unfamiliar with. I have discovered a new favorite musical!
Many biographical stage productions focus on the music of one artist, and the story lines are often weak and dry. But with a script by Ted Swindley, Always… Patsy Cline tells the story of the unlikely friendship between Patsy Cline (played by Corri Cable Kidder) and fan Louise Seger (played by Tamari Dunbar). Louise shares her memories of discovering Patsy Cline’s music, of meeting Patsy before one of her performances, and of their continued friendship through letters and phone calls until Patsy’s tragic death in 1963.
Dunbar’s performance as Louise was packed with energy, enthusiasm, and spunk. Her pantomiming of shushing her children while watching Patsy Cline on the television for the first time was something that any parent with noisy young children can relate to. Her voices for her boyfriend, the local radio disc jockey, and her boss mademe imagine perfectly what they looked like, even though the characters weren’t physically present. Dunbar’s energy and dancing while leading the band during “Your Cheatin’ Heart” made this production much more than just a tribute concert.
Corri Cable Kidder is no stranger to playing Patsy Cline, as she has been cast in multiple productions of Always…Patsy Cline throughout the western United States. Patsy Cline had quite the range, and Kidder matched her, especially when going from those gorgeous low notes to jumping into her head voice. Her yodel-like sound (or “hiccup” as Patsy was known to call it) in “Lovesick Blues” didn’t falter or fish for notes, but hit them dead on. There were a few moments when Kidder went into her head voice, and the sound was a bit brighter than I prefer, but her low tones in chest voice were sounds I could have listened to all night. The role of Patsy is particularly challenging because it is more about singing than acting, but Kidder managed to recreate Patsy and make her come to life. One moment that really stood out to me was when she sang, “If I could see life through the eyes of a child.” The song was beautiful, but the way she caressed the teddy bear she was holding was so tender that I felt as if she was really picturing her own baby as she sang. Kidder had a comfortable, yet classy, air about her that mirrors that of old videos of Patsy’s performances.
The music for this production was created by a live on stage six-man band: Kelly DeHaan, Bryan Hague, Mark Maxson, Mark Robinette, Aaron Ashton, and James Densely. I enjoyed that the band members would interact with Patsy, instead of just sitting and playing, but they never stole attention. My favorite moment of total cast interaction was during “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” Patsy was singing, but smiling and winking at the band members while Louise’s back was turned, obviously enjoying Louise’s antics. Louise was taking her job of keeping the drummer (Densley) from rushing Patsy, and the drummer was doing well at being annoyed yet determined. It was a charming moment where it felt like Patsy might not have really needed Louise’s help, but she enjoyed watching Louise’s joy at being included. However, in some songs the music occasionally overpowered the vocalist, but this seems more of a sound issue than a music issue.
The unit set, designed by Jenn Taylor, had a stage framed in shelves of white cowboy boots that became a canvas for lighting effects (designed by Jaron Hermansen), and a backdrop of white plastic cowboy hats that were also lit to add effect and energy to the scene. When the pieces for Louise’s kitchen dropped down from the fly system and came in the wings, I heard the older couple next to me laugh and remember when they had a kitchen with similar items. I loved the amount of color and texture found in the simple set, from its colorful large square tiled floor, to the retro rectangular vacuum form texture pieces along the face of the bandstand, to the light texture reminiscent of a the embroidery of a western shirt shining down on the floor. It was interesting enough to not feel bare and overly simple, but simple enough to not overwhelm. Costumes, designed by Peggy Willis, reflect those seen in old photos of Patsy Cline, including her pants — which caused many to raise their eyebrows at Patsy Cline in her day because she did not always don a skirt or dress while performing.
I highly recommend this production of Always… Patsy Cline, especially for anyone who loves Patsy Cline music. My friend who attended with me doesn’t generally listen to country music, but she highly enjoyed the show as well. Patsy Cline was one of the first country singers to step out of the traditional country genre and include some of the popular styles of music of the day. She performed a blend of country, swing, and blues and many will find—like my friend did—that they recognize and appreciate her songs. After seeing this production and being reminded of my love for this music, my kids will probably have to listen to Patsy Cline’s music as I blast it for weeks to come.