Without the role of Louise Seger, Always, Patsy Cline would be just a couple hours of one woman singing 25 songs associated with the country-pop crossover star who died in a plane crash on March 5, 1963 at age 30. Conversely, without the singer, the show would be just one woman reminiscing about a friendship with the singer that began in 1957 as an adoring fan and continued over the years preceding Patsy’s death.
Portrayed together in the play created by Ted Swindley, the two characters bring that friendship to life and illuminate Patsy’s career highlights in alternating solo scenes (and some together). Played at Shadow Lawn Stage by Reagan Richards (Patsy) and Katrina Ferguson (Louise), their bond is a warm one and the songs that punctuate the scenario make for some pleasant listening. Always, Patsy Cline is a minor entry in the annals of American musical theater, but fans of homespun dialogue, of 1950s-60s country-pop music or of Patsy Cline herself, of course, will not be disappointed in the show or in these two performers.
After a vocal overture, with Ms. Richards singing “Honky Tonk Merry-go-Round” and “Back in Baby’s Arms” as from the stage of The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Louise relates how she heard Patsy’s “Walking After Midnight” on the Arthur Godfrey TV talent show and became an instant fan. (Patsy sent that January 21, 1957 show’s “applause meter” over the top and became a regular on Godfrey’s radio program, a short-lived gig due to ‘issues’ with the famously control-freak host.) Subsequently, Louise met and befriended the star at a Houston-area concert. Patsy was unusually welcoming of the friendship, even staying over at Louise’s home the same night, and the two stayed close with occasional visits and frequent mail correspondence. (Patsy closed her letters ‘Love always, Patsy Cline,’ hence the title.)
Topped with a full-bodied black coif and sporting Patsy’s trademark bright red lipstick slash, Richards brings charm and clarity of tone to the 25 numbers. Even resembling Patsy, she captures the emotional readings of “Lovesick Blues” and “How Great Thou Art,” for two, and serves up a healthy dose of nostalgia with the most familiar songs, among them “Anytime” and the Willie Nelson composition, “Crazy”. Music and vocal director George Wurzbach’s on-stage musicians lack the characteristic twang and energy of a country-western back-up band; one wonders how much more oomph Patsy’s numbers would have if the guys pushed Ms. Richards a bit.
From Ms. Ferguson’s authentic down-home delivery of Louise’s anecdotes, one would assume she was a native Texan. Nope; the accent and mannerisms are put on…and it’s a fine fit. She’s comfortable even with the corny script and is especially effective communicating directly with the audience. Under director Maurice J. Moran’s guidance on Ferdinando DelGuercio’s multi-location set, Patsy Cline and Louise Seger’s relationship is well served by Reagan Richards and Katrina Ferguson.
Through July 16 at the Lauren Woods Theatre on the Monmouth U campus in West Long Branch. Wed – Sat at 8PM with added matinee on Fri at 2PM. Info and tickets ($30): 732-263-6889 or online at www.monmouth.edu/arts
If you are moved to Google Patsy Cline or to download some of her tunes, as I was, give yourself plenty of time; details of Patsy’s life, her career and recorded songbook, once encountered, are not easily abandoned. Her legacy, symbolized by her being the first female solo artist inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame (posthumously in 1973), is all the more remarkable considering her career lasted only five-and-one-half years.