Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, July, 2003

Your curmudgeonly critic confesses that she is not a country music fan, nor is she a fan of these “tribute” shows that are all the rage at the moment.

But even though country music isn’t my favorite genre, there is no mistaking a huge talent, and Patsy Cline was certainly one of those. Her songs have always impressed me and moved me. She was blessed with a fabulous vocal instrument, a natural talent to perform, and either the ability to select the perfect songs for her voice, a good manager who did so, or simply the capability to make anything sound good!

But the one thing you are guaranteed when you go to the Mac-Haydn to see Always…Patsy Cline is that you are NOT going to see Patsy Cline, who was tragically killed in a plane crash in 1963 at the age of 30. So how does Briana Valerie, the performer playing the role of Patsy Cline, stack up? Not being an avid Patsy fan, I cannot tell you whether she was a note-for-note and move-for-move clone of Cline, but I can tell you that she has a fine voice and is a very appealing performer. I enjoyed her tremendously.

There was more than one person in my section of the audience who was singing along with every number and I am sure that there were more in the very full house who I couldn’t hear. As the evening went on, folks started applauding as soon as Valerie launched into one of Cline’s big hits, just as they would if it had been Cline herself. So I assume that I was not the only one charmed and pleased with Valerie’s performance.

Always…Patsy Cline is a two-woman show, the other character being Louise Seger, a big fan and personal friend of Cline’s. Rhnea Wright Ausmus plays this broad and bawdy broad with gusto. Her enthusiasm is contagious and helps create the illusion that the person she idolizes so really is Patsy Cline.

Author Ted Swindley has wisely given the character of Louise all the lines and comedy, but focuses primarily on Patsy Cline’s music. Twenty-seven Patsy Cline hits are packed into this evening, and even to a gal who doesn’t dig country tunes, they sounded darned good. Like I said, either Patsy Cline or her manager could really pick ’em, or she just made everything sound great. And Valerie continues that tradition with grace.

Ausmus injects a load of sass and rowdy fun into the proceedings. Louise Seger was/is as real as Patsy Cline, and, as Swindley has written her, she was a barrel of energy. The story is Louise’s, not Patsy’s. I know just as little about the life of Patsy Cline as I did before I saw the show, but I know a whole lot about how she affected the life of Louise Seger.

The whole affair is backed by a fabulous five-piece on-stage band consisting of Greg Gascon (drums), Todd Hendricks (bass), Jim Herendeen (piano/keyboards), Carl Phillips (steel pedal guitar), and Jonathan Talbatt (fiddle). I had never seen a steel pedal guitar up close and personal before. It is a really cool instrument that makes a wonderful sound. I was glad they placed it and Phillips front and center in the band.

Brad Scoggins has concocted several flattering costumes for Valerie – ranging from a slinky black cocktail dress to wildly fringed cowgirl get-ups. Ausmus is relegated to shockingly pink country attire, as befits her character.

Director Michael Duggan’s staging is appropriately simple. This show is all about the music and the duties of everyone else involved are just to get out of the way and make Valerie and the band look good.

There is nothing not to like about this show. Ausmus provides plenty of laughs, and Valerie belts out the hits. What a pity its only on the boards this one weekend! Hurry and buy ticket now.

Always…Patsy Cline runs through July 20 at the Mac-Haydn Theatre on Rt. 203 in Chatham, NY. The show runs two hours and fifteen minutes and is suitable for the whole family. Call the box office at 518-392-9292 for tickets and information.

copyright Gail M. Burns, 2003

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