Santa Maria Sun / Art
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 23
Crazy about ClinePCPA Theaterfest celebrates Patsy Cline in all her down-home honky-tonk glory
BY JOE PAYNE
Country music has always been popular because it’s accessible to so many people. Never pretentious and always relating a feeling we can all identify with, a good country song perfectly captures a small part of the human experience in a direct way.
Country starlet Patsy Cline was beloved for her no-frills style, earning her a central place in country music history even before her untimely death at the age of 30. PCPA Theaterfest has stayed true to the spirit of Cline in its to-the-heart treatment of the play Always … Patsy Cline.
The title refers to the way Cline signed letters she sent to her pen pal and fan Louise Seger. The play—based on this real friendship—relates the relationship between Seger and Cline.
When looking at the program for the production, I was compelled to notice: There are only two characters in the entire play—Patsy Cline and Louise Seger, portrayed by Kitty Balay and Suzy Newman, respectively. I had never been to a play so sparsely cast, and I wondered how it would affect the story and my attention span.
Much to my delight, upon arriving in the Severson Theater on opening night, the stage was already populated. Not with actors, mind you, but musicians. A full band was awaiting the start of the show, as the ensemble would be providing all of the music for the show live, a definite plus in my book.
The honky-tonk setup was complete: guitar, bass (both upright and electric), drums, piano, fiddle, and pedal steel slide guitar. Led by Jonathan Swoboda, pianist and musical director for the production, the band members play like honky-tonk bar veterans, providing an authentic country sound—the kind Cline always sang with.
The show is heavy on the music, with country tunes belted skillfully by Balay over the solid sound the band provides. Cline was never a songwriter, but a supra-skilled interpreter, and the show pulls from the pantheon of classic Nashville. Songs include iconic hits by great legends of country: Donn Hecht’s “Walkin’ After Midnight,” Willie Nelson’s “Crazy,” and Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues,” just to name a few. The band and Balay exhibit a remarkable chemistry, connecting the entire show as if it were a two-sided record.
While Cline might lend her name to the production, the real star of the show is Louise, who tells the entire story with stocks of Southern whit. Suzy Newman—whom I had never seen act, but remember as a former stage manager for the Great American Melodrama—steals the show as Cline’s unlikely friend.
The show is really about Louise and her friendship with Cline. Louise’s fearless attitude brings her to a Cline concert a whole two hours early, winning her the chance to meet and talk with her favorite singer. The two connect as if they were already old friends.
Newman’s portrayal of Louise is untouchable. She perfectly balances the character’s excitement at getting to hang with her idol with her down-home hospitality. Most of the spoken play is monologue by Louise, and due to the intimate nature of the Severson Theater, Newman’s Louise comes across as an old friend who has invited you into her kitchen to tell you a story over a pot of coffee, just like the ones she would share with Cline.
Being a character piece, Always … Patsy Cline doesn’t shy away from the famous singer’s problems, or from Louise’s, but rather connects the duo through their shared woes and triumphs. And, like its titular heroine, Cline shows the best way to cope is with a great song.
Arts Editor Joe Payne wishes he was a honky-tonk veteran. Contact him at email@example.com.