Jukebox musical told anecdotal style

‘Always…Patsy Cline’

Christina Hall in Always Patsy Cline presented by Firebrand Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)
Christina Hall in Always Patsy Cline presented by Firebrand Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)

3 stars

The show is an amusing tale written by Ted Swindley based on a true story as told by Louise Seger (Harmony France).

Seger had met young Nashville chanteuse Patsy Cline (Christina Hall) at one of her early Houston performances in the 1950s. The meeting created a friendship that lasted until the legendary singer’s tragic death six years later at age thirty.

France’s energetic performance as Louise is the only real substance in this country music jukebox production which incidentally features a real jukebox as part of the honky-tonk set design of Lauren M. Nichols.

The narrative style is much like a friend telling you an interesting anecdote. It is cool that through her own boldness and fan devotion, Louise was able to strike up a friendship with an emerging superstar.

But there really is not enough contrast and development to make this a compelling play. We really do not learn anything substantial about the singer, Louise, or their relationship.

The music does nothing to further the plotline so it comes off as more of a concert performance and less of musical theater.

I am afraid any performer taking on this role is in something of an untenable position. She would be forced to do an impersonation rather than an impression because there is no real story to fall back on.

Hall does a credible job as Cline. Her physical presence, musical phrasing, and tonality is very good but her delivery of the songs lacked soul. This is why no one else is Patsy Cline.

(left to right) Harmony France and Christina Hall in Firebrand Theatre's Always...Patsy Cline.(Photo by Michael Brosilow.)
(left to right) Harmony France and Christina Hall in Firebrand Theatre’s Always…Patsy Cline.(Photo by Michael Brosilow.)

It’s the “it” factor. Hall seems focused on the technical rather than emotional aspect of the performances which may leave some listeners wondering what is so special.

The same is true of the band. They also did a credible job, but I did not get the idea that they are country music musicians or even lovers of the genre. Their sound was overall a bit too spot-on and lacking genuine energy.

It’s possible that my review is influenced by the fact that I am something of a classic country music fan and recently watched the Ken Burns documentary on the subject on PBS. That means that Patsy’s sound is fresh in my memory.

Those not as well-versed in the genre or those who have not listened to much of Patsy Cline’s music recently (or at all) should be more than pleased having the opportunity to hear some of these iconic songs that topped the pop and country charts for a decade.

The show is a chance to hear “Back in Baby’s Arms,” “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Stupid Cupid,” “You Belong to Me,” “Sweet Dreams,” “Faded Love,” and of course, “Crazy” written by a then young songwriter, Willie Nelson.

Because Cline was something of a stand-and-deliver  singer (mostly ballads) who did not interject a lot of body movement into her (at least televised) performances, director Brigitte Ditmars had a bit of a challenge moving Hall around the stage.

Conversely, Louise hops and bounces like a pinball from her table in the audience to the back of the bandstand at the far end of the stage.

France and Hall will be swapping roles during the run so it might be interesting to experience this role reversal. However whichever iteration you happen to see it should be an entertaining night-out.

I believe you can grab a beer at the lobby-bar, then bring it into the theater and simply enjoy this as a taste of Nashville-style honky-tonkin’ on Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago.

DETAILS:  “Always…Patsy Cline” is presented by Firebrand Theatre at The Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago through Dec. 15, 2019. For tickets and other information visit Firebrand Theatre.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

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