July 9, 2002


Always, Patsy Cline

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning



















For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

(aired on WFAE)

Always, Patsy Cline, presented by The Producers’ Group at Theatre Charlotte, is a hybrid show that works best when Patsy is on-stage, and not at all when she isn’t. It’s part concert, part drama and 100 percent hokey. If you have an old-fashioned great grandma who loves country music, this is the show you want to bring her to. But hurry, because the seven-week run has been abbreviated by two weeks, with the last show on Sunday, July 14th.

Originally born as a 45-minute cabaret style performance, Always has misguidedly erupted into a drama, punctuated by the magic that was Patsy Cline. It is now a compilation of 27 Patsy Cline songs, annoyingly interrupted by the story of a woman named Louise, who spent one night of her life with the legendary Cline.

Jessica Welch stars as Patsy Cline, just as she did during the Charlotte premiere of this production in 1997. Since her last appearance, she has sung her way through this role in 38 other states. Though her voice has a nasal quality not apparent on Cline’s C.D.s, Welch captures the essence of Cline’s voice, particularly on the luxurious long notes. Her pleasant, playful stage presence is engaging, and would be particularly charming IF she really was a big time country star. But this is a re-enactment, which the audience cannot ever forget, because the narrator Louise is constantly there to remind us.

Louise is a Texan who discovers Patsy Cline on the radio and can’t get enough of her. After perpetually hounding her local D.J. to play Cline’s tunes, Louise goes to see her idol perform live, and ends up providing room and board to Cline after the show. This untraditional one-night stand barely provides the backbone for a conversation, let alone a whole play, yet that is what writer and director Ted Swindley has based this production on.

Louise is played by Deborah Rhodes, who tries to be folksy, funny, and a little bit coarse. She succeeds in being loud, overbearing, and most offensively, boring. The dialogue is so weak, it’s hard to tell whether Rhodes is a bad actress, or Swindley is a bad director. Either way, Louise’s story is as uninteresting as Charlotte’s summer weather. Their evening spent chit-chatting around the kitchen table is full of inane tidbits such as Louise saying, "I didn’t know you smoked, Patsy," and Patsy responding "You’re crazy, Louise."

The fun of the performance comes by way of Patsy’s backup band, The Bodacious Bobcats, led by veteran musical director Scott McKenzie, whose key jangling fingers rock the make-believe honky tonk on Queens Road. Four black and white clad men called the Jordanaires provide vocal back-up, occasionally give Louise a hard time, as well as encourage the audience to clap along with the music.

Always has sold out houses from coast to coast. Perhaps it is a show that only shines for those who lived during the short brief life that was Patsy Cline, and are yearning for insight into her character. The music is real and quite beautiful and heart-wrenching. I never knew Patsy Cline, and this show didn’t teach me a thing about her that listening to a C.D. doesn’t express more clearly.

Lynn Trenning, July 9, 2002

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