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Theater Review: ‘Always … Patsy Cline’ is poignant with a touch of humor

Audience jumps to its feet in standing ovation

By AUDREY BLACKWELL

ASSISTANT FEATURES EDITOR

Venice Gondolier

January 16, 2019

If you love the strong contralto sound of Patsy Cline’s lyrics, you’re going to fully enjoy Alana Opie’s portrayal of the late songstress at Venice Theatre. Opening night of the new musical Jan. 11 brought the house down with the superb sounds of Opie’s voice on such melodies as “Crazy,” “You Belong to Me,” the lively “Bill Bailey,” and the traditional “Just a Closer Walk With Thee.”

But then, it wasn’t just Opie bringing the audience to its feet for a standing ovation at what was supposed to be the end of the show (there was a curtain call for more singing). She had help from fellow performer Becky Holahan, who played the part of Patsy’s newfound friend Louise Seger, a Texas housewife in love with the singer’s music who befriended Patsy upon her arrival in Houston to put on a show.

Actually, it was Louise’s storytelling that gave relevance to the tribute of Patsy Cline’s musical  history. Sadly, Cline died in an airplane crash at age 30, having only performed for six years, wherein she experienced an exciting rise to fame with her Nashville sound during the late 1950s, early 1960s.

Brian Freeman’s well designed set took the audience to a country-western stage in a Houston, Texas bar where Cline sang, which had an added comfy 1960s kitchen, replete with gold refrigerator and a simple kitchen table, off to the side from where Seger began the story of her friendship with Cline.

It all began when Seger’s children, ages 3 and 5 at the time, were watching Arthur Godfrey’s morning TV show and a new country singer, Cline, sang “Walkin’ After Midnight.” Seger said she fell in love with that singer’s voice.

“I never heard a voice that impressed me so,” Seger said.

Cline had appeared in a blue dress and heels to the side, singing. Costume changes were frequent and kept up with the singer’s moves, which began with her in a red and white cowgirl outfit with white boots and ranging through various colorful suits and dresses.

Anxious to hear Cline again, and often, Seger repeatedly called the radio station and asked the DJ to “play her again,” and he did. Then one day when Seger called, the DJ said Patsy Cline was coming to Houston, much to Seger’s excitement. She got all dressed up in her finest country-western duds and told her boyfriend (she was divorced, as eventually would be the same for Cline), that they were going to go to that show, with another couple.

Holahan added strategically placed humor to the show on Venice Theatre’s MainStage to break up soulful moments, especially at this juncture when she strutted across the stage, stopping to pat the side of her leg down, casual-like, and commented about her clothes fitting her like a glove.

“Don’t they now?” she asked the audience, which responded with laughter.

Seger had her group go to the night spot at 6:30 for the 8 p.m. show, to make sure they got a good table. They were early enough that they saw Cline enter all alone and check out the place. Seger introduced herself and invited her to join them whenever she wanted to talk. Cline did. She and Seger sipped beers later and became fast friends, to the point that Seger invited her to stay overnight instead of at a lonely hotel, which she did, and Seger took her to the airport the next day. They vowed to keep in touch.

Not that Seger thought that would happen, but much to her excitement, a few weeks later she received the first of many letters from the singer, which she received in the following two years. They were always signed, “Always … Patsy Cline,” the show’s namesake.

Then, one day while Seger sat at her kitchen table listening to the radio, her favorite DJ came on, and she thought he would play a Patsy Cline tune. But sadly, he announced Patsy Cline had died in a plane crash when leaving Nashville. That was in March 1963.

This show has a lot of good music and heart, some laughter and some tears, all well-balanced at the swift direction of Allan Kollar. Sound was always solid, thanks to Dorian Boyd, sound designer, and Rebecca Heintz, music director.

And let’s not forget the band that backs Cline’s songs: “The Bodacious Bobcats,” with Heintz as conductor/keyboard 1; Debra Zanders, fiddle/ acoustic guitar; Preston Boyd, lead electric guitar, Larry Bell, steel guitar, Jeff Bennyhoff, upright bass, and Joel Broome on drums.

Light board operator is Lee Knapp; sound board operators are Boyd and Tiffany Coffman; deck sound is Fran Costa; spotlight operators are Melody Actouka and Cindy Hickle; deck/dresser is Dawn Bombard; and hair and makeup is Lauren Kelly.

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