A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline
Where: McPherson Playhouse
When: Continues to Nov. 10
Tickets: Starting at $24.50. Call the McPherson box office at 250-386-6121
Sara-Jeanne Hosie has hammered one out of the park.
This is the eighth time she has played Patsy Cline in Dean Regan's enjoyably breezy (albeit flawed) musical revue. The just-opened Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre production has its strengths and weaknesses. However, it's Hosie that makes the show worth braving the fall rains.
The actor/vocalist sings with power, passion and formidable technical skill. Thursday's was a truly memorable performance. I advise you not to miss Hosie, whether you're a Cline fan, not a Cline fan ... or just thinking about becoming one.
Stepping into Patsy Cline's shoes is no tiptoe through the Texas roses. Cline, who died in a 1963 plane crash, is a towering figure in contemporary country music.
Aided by an astute producer, Owen Bradley, she helped pioneer a polished, pop-oriented style of country music. What saved her from becoming a music-history footnote was her voice. Hers was an astonishingly powerful instrument, an operatic contralto capable of conveying pit-of-the-soul emotion. (One need only to check out her recording of Sweet Dreams to realized why k.d. lang became obsessed with Cline.)
Hosie has performed this show enough to know exactly what she's doing. Never descending to sterile mimicry, she's mastered stylistic tricks that helped define Cline's style, the occasional yodel-like flips or catch in the throat, for instance.
Her timbre is lovely, a sort of silken huskiness. Hosie is particularly good at capturing the deeply thrilling tone Cline was able to coax from low notes. This isn't something a performer can manage by mere impersonation; the singing must be delivered with genuine passion. And on Thursday night, Hosie, who received a standing ovation, did just that.
A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline is, essentially, an excuse to showcase Cline's music. Nothing wrong with that - the songs are terrific.
Regan's workmanlike script builds a narrative around a Deep South disc jockey, Little Big Man, who spins Cline's discs and offers good ol' boy comic routines. We follow her career from the Lone Star Saloon in Texas to Carnegie Hall - the loftiest of heights for any country singer.
Cline's ascension isn't particularly supported by dramatic build. Rather, it's her increasingly sophisticated costumes (she ultimately wears a sequined evening gown) that signal her rise to fame.
A musical revue comes with an inherent dilemma: is it a concert or a play? Trying to be both is typically a struggle, and I'm not sure Regan emerges the victor in A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline.
Despite his efforts, his script is essentially static. Realizing this, director Brian Richmond has worked hard to make the show more theatrical and dynamic. His boldest touch is the inclusion of four dancers, accompanying Cline on most songs.
This quartet, doing mostly social dancing, is a mixed blessing. Some tunes benefit from the approach, particularly lively rockabilly numbers such as Gotta Lotta Rhythm in My Soul.
That said, there was a level of awkwardness on opening night - some lifts and jumps looked cumbersome. The decision to have dancers imitate mannequins at the beginning and end seemed confusing and ill-conceived.
The show's ending is problematic; it appears Regan wasn't sure how to finish things. Cline's tragic death is announced by the DJ. We then see her, beautifully lit, singing against a sky-blue background and cloud-like puffs of fog.
This is followed by a curious and confusing bit in which the disc jockey - perhaps brought back to present day - takes a phone call and fiddles with a mannequin (again with the mannequins). Finally, Patsy returns and asks the audience if they'd like "one more" - a ploy to send the audience home with a smile on their faces. It seems cobbled together.
I saw Hosie perform A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline at Chemai-nus Theatre Festival several years ago - this production is superior in several respects. In Victoria, Wes Borg pays the role of the disc jockey much more successfully. There's one scene in which his character delivers a cornpone comedy routine that, by today's standards, is dated and perhaps offensive (there are some jokes that would make any feminist's toes curl).
Borg subverts these jokes in an eye-winking manner, kicking his leg out after punchlines and declaring: "These are the kinds of jokes I'm doing, so strap it on!"
Elsewhere, in fleeting sequences directed with surprising delicacy, Borg resists the temptation to ham it up, thus providing the show moments of drama and poignancy.
A five-piece band boasts several members from the Chemai-nus Theatre production, but this combo is a better version. The playing is of a higher calibre. On this night, the rhythm section did falter once or twice, and in Act I, the volume overshadowed the singer on occasion. These are minor problems that no doubt will be remedied.
Go for the songs, which are wonderful: I Fall to Pieces, Crazy, Walkin' After Midnight. Lesser-known gems often impressed the most. Hosie's version of Just a Closer Walk with Thee, a gospel number, was simply beautiful.
© Copyright 2013