By Barry Willis
In many ways, singer Patsy Cline defined a substantial swath of mid-century popular music. She was known primarily as a country artist but plenty of her recordings crossed over into other genres. Her soaring, pitch-perfect voice and heart-rending emotion brought her to the forefront of American culture, in a high arc from her debut in 1957 until her 1963 death in an airplane crash on the way back to Nashville.
Cline’s short career encompassed many firsts: first woman to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, first woman to tour as a lead act, first to headline in Las Vegas, and first female country singer to perform at Carnegie Hall. Her glorious honey-toned voice and prodigious output of classic country and popular songs earned her a permanent place in the pantheon of American music.
Center Repertory Company has launched a lovely production of Ted Swindley’s “Always, Patsy Cline,” at the Margaret Lesher Theater in Walnut Creek. The truest of true stories, based on letters shared between Cline and her friend Louise Seger, the show combines music, comedy, and drama in a way equaled by few other theatrical productions. The big stage and capacious seating in the Lesher provide the perfect venue.
…”Always, Patsy Cline” is a fantastically entertaining tour of musical Americana…
Equity actress Cayman Ilika stars as Patsy, with Kate Jaeger as Louise. Ilika’s appearance is convincingly similar to Cline’s, helped of course by Brynne McKeen’s period-perfect costumes. Her voice is remarkably similar to Cline’s, although in a slightly lower register, with a dazzling capacity to sail from contralto to upper alto. Her ability to hold notes is astounding. She’s a powerful performer.
Supported by a superb six-piece band (“The Bodacious Bobcat Band”) arrayed across the stage behind her, Ilika covers memorable million-sellers like “I Fall to Pieces,” “Crazy” (written by Willie Nelson, by the way), “Walkin’ After Midnight,” and “Sweet Dreams” with aplomb, but also does great justice to rock icons such as “Shake Rattle and Roll,” plus old pop favorites like “Bill Bailey” and gospel classics such as “Just a Closer Walk” and “How Great Thou Art.”
But the show’s namesake is only part of the attraction. As Patsy’s friend Louise, the immensely talented and outrageously funny Kate Jaeger provides the perfect balancing act. A wry, self-deprecating Texan, Louise was a fan before she ever met Patsy. Her first-person narrative about their meeting and enduring friendship is both hilarious and heart-warming. Sharing a few songs with Illika, Jaeger is also quite a compelling vocalist. The pair’s harmonies are glorious; their interactions, natural and effortless.
Director Karen Lund and her cast and crew have delivered a real gift to Bay Area theater-and-music fans. It’s a pity that this show has such a short run, closing on September 25. It could easily run for many weeks.
“Always, Patsy Cline” is a fantastically entertaining tour of musical Americana and a lovely, emotional portrait of a transcendent friendship. It’s a show that should be on everyone’s must-see list.
|Always Patsy Cline
|Center Repertory Company
|Thru Sept. 25th
|Lesher Center for the Arts
1601 Civic Drive
Walnut Creek CA 94596
|Max in each category is 5/5
|Aisle Seat Review Pick?