Los Angeles Theater Review: ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE (Sierra Madre Playhouse)

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by Tony Frankel on August 2, 2015

in Theater-Los Angeles


APC8 (876x1280)Patsy Cline couldn’t be more fondly or accurately recalled than by Cori Cable Kidder in Robert Marra’s production of Always…Patsy Cline, the oft-produced 1990 paean to the once and future crossover country icon who made audiences “fall to pieces.” Written and originally directed by Ted Swindley, this tribute—equal parts play, concert and theme park attraction—is sweet, spunky, and sincere. This revival sums up Patsy Cline’s art in 24 songs and sums up her life in heartfelt testimony to and from her biggest fan. In nearly two hours we see the recording star not just in the passionate immediacy of her greatest hits but through the eyes of true-life adoring groupie Louise Seger (Nikki D’Amico), a Houston divorcee who became fast friends when she met Patsy Cline in 1961, just two years before the latter’s tragic death at only 30 in the crash of a private plane.

An instant true believer, Louise had already been Patsy’s champion since she first heard her on the Arthur Godfrey Show in 1957. She crusaded to get Cline’s songs played by Hal Harris, a local radio DJ who would later get to interview the Nashville APC10 (823x1280)sensation herself. Meeting her in a Houston honky tonk, Louise soon became a protective unofficial agent, a tempo coach for the local band, and, in her cozy kitchen, a confidante about love, music and lesser matters—and a maker of bacon and eggs.

D’Amico’s Louise is all homespun caricature, and going over the top here points up rather than smooths out the jukebox musical’s inherent redneck hokum. Fortunately, at the heart of Louise’s ardor is the amazing Virginia-born chanteuse herself, stunningly and warmly recreated by a superb Ms. Kidder. Dolled up in A. Jeffrey Schoenberg’s country fashions, an unimprovable Kidder captures Patsy’s contagious heartbreak in “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Stupid Cupid,” “Crazy,” the do-si-doeing Texas standard “Lovesick Blues,” and other torch ballads meant to melt hearts of lead.

Apart from brassy leather lungs for belting very recognizable sorrows, Kidder conveys the plaintive warble and moving tremolo that Patsy brought to such signature pieces as Cole Porter’s simple and ardent “True Love,” the ebullient “Back in Baby’s Arms,” the romantic “You Belong to Me,” and such religious favorites as APC9 (981x1280)“Just a Closer Walk With Thee” and “How Great Thou Art.” Patsy’s supposed lullaby to Louise’s kid, “If I Could See the World (Through the Eyes of a Child),” makes us do just that. When the women join in heavenly harmony in “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” for a minute or more nothing’s wrong around the world.

Marra perfectly sets the show in John Ventrees’ miniature recreation of the Grand Old Opry stage, Louise’s kitchenette, and a roadside club, all decorated in magnificent detail by Erin Walley (check out the authentic jukebox and oven). Sean Paxton’s immaculately accurate musical direction of the “Bodacious Bobcats,” a 5-man combo that sits behind the proceedings, almost improves on the originals. The concentrated dimensions of the Sierra Madre Playhouse serve to highlight the good nature of this charmer, and the must-see Kidder continually captivates.

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APC7copy (728x1280)photos by Gina Long

Always…Patsy Cline
Sierra Madre Playhouse
87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd in Sierra Madre
Fri and Sat at 8; Sun at 2:30
check for added matinees
ends on September 12, 2015
EXTENDED to October 30, 2015
for tickets, call 626.355.4318
or visit www.sierramadreplayhouse.org

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