Los Angeles Theater Review: ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE (El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood)

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by Jason Rohrer on August 1, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles


Carter Calvert in ALWAYS, PATSY CLINE.Based on the true story of a rabid blue-collar fan whose dream of making friends with her favorite Grand Ole Opry star came true in 1961, Always…Patsy Cline is an enormously successful 1990 jukebox musical written and “originally directed” by Ted Swindley.  In its latest incarnation at the El Portal through Sunday, there are a few transitions and moments of business in the first act which could use some, well, new direction.  But the show looks and sounds terrific, and everyone onstage works hard to earn their money, from the skilled and talented Carter Calvert as Patsy Cline to the restrained Bodacious Bobcats country band to old-pro schtick saleswoman Sally Struthers as Louise, the narrator and luckiest divorcee in Houston.  There’s a little working-woman-and-mother sisterhood up there on that stage, and some redneck pride, and a surprisingly small amount of hoke.  Thin as the premise and book are, and they are, Struthers’ energy and chops help the interstitial scenes to bind together two dozen well-rendered songs.

Sally Struthers and Carter Calvert in ALWAYS, PATSY CLINECalvert bends her strong and emotive voice into a loving tribute to Patsy Cline’s famously smoky tones.  Her version (of Cline’s version) of the 1952 standard “You Belong to Me” (Pee Wee King, Chilton Price, Redd Stewart) sounds so much like the late Decca recording artist that I got chills.  It’s such a lovely tune, and I’d forgotten Cline had recorded it; Calvert avoids nostalgic caricature to achieve an evocative yet independently exciting moment.  Whether she’s singing Willie Nelson (“Crazy”), Cole Porter (“True Love”), or Bob Wills (“San Antonio Rose”), Calvert is comfortable in  her power, understating when a less confident performer would overdo it.

Carter Calvert in ALWAYS, PATSY CLINEJulie Ferrin nicely balances the sound design to accommodate the five-piece band (piano and safe, snappy musical direction by John Randall; bass, Vince Tividad; guitars, John McDuffie; drums, Roger Cohen; fiddle, Mark Indictor) and Calvert’s voice.  As is often the case with nearly-invisible forehead microphones, the lower register doesn’t always come across, and when the audience is encouraged to clap along with some tunes, Calvert can get lost in the mix.  Mostly, she sounds marvelous in a rounded, friendly soundscape.  Brandon Baruch lights the vivid, uncomplicated set (scenic design consultant Bruce Goodrich) with nostalgic pastels and tasteful simplicity.  While obvious potentials for story remain unexplored, and the overall structure is lopsided and always just slightly awkward, given its stars, this is really a bulletproof production well worth the effort of parking in North Hollywood.

Sally Struthers and Carter Calvert in ALWAYS, PATSY CLINE.photos by Ed Krieger

Always…Patsy Cline
presented by 22Q Entertainment
(Robert Levinstein & Alan Wager)
El Portal Theatre
5269 Lankershim Blvd in North Hollywood
scheduled to end on August 3, 2014
for tickets, call 818-508-4200
or visit www.elportaltheatre.com

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