By Sue Morgan
Currently at 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa, Always, Patsy Cline incites smiles, belly laughs, and deep appreciation of the music of the late, great Patsy Cline while telling the story of how Patsy became friends and pen pals with one of her most ardent fans. The show runs through April 30th.
In 1961, Patsy Cline played a concert at the Esquire Ballroom in Houston, Texas. Alerted to the performance by a local DJ, superfan Louise Seger was the first to arrive at the venue and struck up a conversation with the star, who was doing pre-performance reconnaissance in the hall. Louise and Patsy sparked an instant connection, and before the show, Patsy joined Louise and her friends at their table and asked Louise if during the performance she would keep an eye on the drummer to ensure he didn’t rush her. Louise did so and after the show invited Patsy to her home for a late night/early morning breakfast of bacon and eggs.
…It’s a touching story…
Louise narrates the story, performed by the hilarious Liz Jahren, thoroughly enjoying her role as comic relief. Portrayed as an outspoken, outlandish character, who through gumption fueled by her long adoration of Patsy’s music—she called her local DJ Hal Harris multiple times daily to request that he play her favorite Patsy Cline songs—manages to get Patsy an early morning in-person interview with him. Mr. Harris thinks Louise is drunk and delusional when she calls his home in the early morning hours to inform him that Patsy Cline is at her house and will be at his studio in the morning for an interview. Hal responds, “And I’ve got Marilyn Monroe in bed. Now, honey, you sleep it off and I’ll play ‘I Fall to Pieces’ for you in the morning.”
Louise goes on to describe—to appreciative laughter—the expression on Hal’s face later that morning as he sees Louise arrive in the studio, arm in arm with Patsy Cline. Louise elicits more laughter as she paints a picture of Hal, who “…looked like death, wearing Bermuda shorts, a sweater that looked like it had been in the dryer a week and tennis shoes with holes cut out so his toes could breathe.”
Patsy Cline (honey-voiced and beautifully self-possessed Shannon Rider) tells her story in snippets between the 27 songs she sings throughout the performance. A self-taught singer, Patsy was unable to read music and had no idea what key she sang in. Growing up in poverty, she proudly admits that her mother sewed the cowgirl outfits she favored early in her career. Envisioning herself a star, she was the first woman singer to headline her own tour and worked tirelessly, often performing multiple shows per day, even after giving birth to her second child.
Director Jared Saken empowers Jahren and Rider to share a natural-seeming rapport and the two appear to genuinely enjoy performing together. Both women first played their respective characters 15 years earlier when 6th Street Playhouse put on its first production of Always. Jahren played Louise throughout the production and Rider filled in for a weekend—after being given one day’s notice—when the lead actress playing Cline became ill. Jahren has a wonderful sense of comic timing and Rider, who has enjoyed a successful singing career as leader of her own bands, is perfectly at home whether singing or acting.
Music Director Nate Riebli does a fine job with “The Bodacious Bobcats Band,” whose accompaniment never overwhelms Rider’s vocals, as well as with “The Jordanaires” whose “How Great Thou Art” lends appropriate gravity to the scene in which we learn that Patsy has been killed—at age 30!—in a plane crash. Costume Designer Pamela Johnson does a phenomenal job with Cline’s wardrobe, capturing the elegance and glamour Cline was known for using many vintage pieces to very good effect.
There is a reason this play is performed—often in multiple venues—around San Francisco and the North Bay almost every year. Always…Patsy Cline delivers music beloved by country as well as pop fans. It’s a touching story about an unlikely friendship and an affirming message about one woman’s ability, through grit, determination and hard work, to make the most of her natural talent.
Contributing Writer Sue Morgan is a literature-and-theater enthusiast in Sonoma County’s Russian River region. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
|Production||Always... Patsy Cline|
|Written by||Ted Swindley|
|Directed by||Jared Sakren / Nate Riebli|
|Producing Company||6th Street Playhouse, Studio Theatre|
|Production Dates||Thru Apr 30th|
|Production Address||6th Street Playhouse
52 W. 6th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
|Tickets||$35 to $43|
|Reviewer Score||Max in each category is 5/5|
|Aisle Seat Review PICK?||YES!|