Theater Review: ALWAYS, PATSY CLINE (Center Rep at Lesher Center in Walnut Creek)

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by Chuck Louden on September 15, 2022

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


Patsy Cline couldn’t be more fondly or accurately recalled than by Cayman Ilika in Karen Lund’s sweet 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 25 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 (Kate Jaeger), 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. It’s worth the drive to the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek to see the show and hear the amazing vocal talents of Ms. Ilika as Patsy. This jukebox musical based on a true story revolves around a weekend in Texas when Patsy is in town for a concert and ends up spending the weekend with one of this longtime fans. I ended up knowing more about Patsy Cline than I thought I did.

Apart from brassy leather lungs for belting very recognizable sorrows, Ms. Ilika 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,” “Sweet Dreams”, “I Fall to Pieces” and — of course — “Crazy” (written by Willie Nelson) and such religious favorites as “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.

Claire Marx must be commended for her music direction. Ms. Ilika has not only the voice but the presence of Patsy Cline as she emotes all over the stage, whether singing to the audience or her adoring fan and new gal pal Louise, but in Brynne McKeen‘s outfits she looks as authentic as can be. Patsy is backed up by The Bodacious Bobcat Band conducted by Trevor Meseroll (Keyboard), featuring Jay Rosen (Pedal Steel Guitar), Cat Taylor (Fiddle), Eric Price (bass), Derek Brooker (guitar), and Ken Bergmann (Band Contractor and Drummer), the latter of whom plays a series of “Bob’s” — Billy Bob, Joe Bob, Bob Bob, et al. The infectious performances and enjoyable story make for a very entertaining evening.

photos by Alessandra Mello

Always, Patsy Cline
Center Repertory Company
Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Dr, in Walnut Creek
ends on September 25, 2022
for tickets ($45-$70) , call 925.943.7469 Wed-Sun, 12-6pm, or visit Lesher Arts

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