by Macey Levin
In 1957 Louise Seger of Houston, Texas, had an idol – Grand Ole Opry star Patsy Cline. When Cline was going to appear at a club in Houston, Louise and friends fortunately arrived early and a friendship was formed between the working woman and the legendary performer. Their story is the foundation of Always… Patsy Cline, Sharon Playhouse’s absolutely terrific production.
Patsy Cline started her career singing country-western songs and then moved into mainstream popular music bringing along her southern twang and unforgettable contralto. As a teen-ager she won an Arthur Godfrey (remember him?) talent show singing one of her greatest hits Walkin’ After Midnight. After 16 years as a star she died in a place crash in 1963 at the age of 31. She has been cited as one of the best female singers of all time.
Louise (Alison Arngrim; Nellie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie) tells us the story with a hefty Texas accent, a huge personality with high exuberant energy. Her delivery is a combination of broad comedy and veneration of Cline as she speaks directly to and interacts with the audience, including dancing with a gentleman in an aisle and onstage. She is more than likable and has a marvelous singing voice as well.
Carter Calvert has perfected Cline’s style including the nasality and the dynamic range. Calvert owns the stage; her voice fills the theatre without the use of a body mic. If you close your eyes you’d believe Cline had been resurrected. Interspersed between the 26 songs performed, we learn she was born in Virginia and grew up in poverty after her father left the family. Though she couldn’t read music she started to appear in clubs and then struck pay dirt with the Godfrey win. Her career soared; she married, divorced, married again, and had two children. After meeting Louise they wrote each other often; Cline always signed her letters: Always… Patsy Cline.
The show was created byTed Swindley 20 yeas ago and has been performed all over the world. Given that Calvert/Cline sings 26 songs in an hour and half, including some of her biggest hits (Walkin’ After Midnight, I Fall to Pieces, Your Cheatin’ Heart, Sweet Dreams, Shake, Rattle and Roll, Crazy, Seven Lonely Days, Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey,) this is more of a concert with succinct and informative narration. The scene when Louise tells the audience of Patsy’s death could have been maudlin, but Swindley made it very simple and simply touching just as he has done with the rest of the show.
Sharon’s artistic director Alan M-G Wager staged the show briskly and with the obvious intention to tell the story with love and joy. As the show evolved at the performance attended, whenever Calvert started a number the audience applauded and cheered as if they were actually seeing and hearing Patsy Cline. The feeling throughout the theatre was one of warmth, excitement and a shared emotional experience. Mr. Wager got it right!
The set, coordinated by Thomas P. Swetz, has four playing areas: Louise’s kitchen on one side, tables at the club on the other, an elevated stage on which the 6-piece band is situated, and a multi-use area downstage. The action shifts seamlessly from one place to the other with the creative and atmospheric lighting by Jamie Roderick. The costumes for the two performers (Ms. Calvert has several) are fittingly designed for the characters’ personalities by Byron Batista and Gordon DeVinney. The band, which is onstage for virtually the entire show, artfully accompanies both Arngrim and Calvert as well as bantering with them.
At this performance before the show started, Robert Levinstein, Sharon’s production manager, welcomed the many veterans in the audience who were asked to rise to receive a lengthy round of applause in gratitude for their service.
This is a superbly staged, acted, and sung production. Get your tickets before it’s too late! We’re going to see it again.
Always…Patsy Cline, created by Ted Swindley and directed by Alan M-L Wager runs August 17 – September 2, 2018 at the Sharon Playhouse, Sharon-Amenia Rd. (Rte 343,) Sharon, CT. Music Director: Eric Thomas Johnson. Lighting Design: Jamie Roderick. Set Coordinator: Thomas P. Swetz. Sound Design: Daryl Bornstein. Ms. Arngrim’s Wig/Costume Design: Byron Batista. Ms. Calvert’s Costume Design: Gordon DeVinney. Ms. Calvert’s Wig Design: Paula Schaffer and Madison McKenzie Weber. Stage Manager: Alexandra D’agostino. CAST: Alison Arngrim (Louise Seger) Carter Calvert (Patsy Cline).