Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Always…Patsy Cline’ a sweetie

Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Always…Patsy Cline’ a sweetie

The Peninsula Players production is full bodied.

PHOTO: Christine Mild stars as legendary singer Patsy Cline in Peninsula Players Theatre’s production of “Always…Patsy Cline.” Peninsula Players Theatre photo

FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV) – Illusion. “Always…Patsy Cline” creates the illusion that the radiance of singer Patsy Cline is back on stage pouring her heart into songs and is back at the kitchen table of an adoring fan pouring her soul into her life story. The illusion created by Peninsula Players Theatre becomes in essence a great big hug.

On opening night Wednesday, return hugs surfaced from the audience in various forms.

- Responses to individual songs. Cheers in some cases.

- Rapt silence. In a sequence with a lullaby and a hymn, the audience was gone – believing, fully enchanted.

- Friendly, cheerful standing ovation.

The audience LOVED the show. For good reason.

Largely, the songs are known because they’ve been around for generations.

In the central role, Christine Mild has Patsy Cline’s kind of colorful voice – smooth, adaptable to many styles, ringing in long closing notes. Bright. Melancholy. Swinging. Sensitive. Special.

Karen Janes Woditsch adds the aura of the down-home BFF (best friend forever), Louise Seger, who throttles forward and seldom asks, “What speedbump?”

***

Creative: Author – Ted Swindley; director – Brian Russell; musical director – Malcolm Ruhl; scenic designer – J Branson; costume designer – Pamela J. Rehberg; sound designer – Josh Horvath; lighting designer – Jason Fassl; stage manager – Alden Vasquez; properties designer – Jesse Gaffney; production manager – Sarah Burnham; scenic artists – Kaitlin Younger, Eileen Rozycki.

Cast: Patsy Cline – Christine Mild; Louise Seger – Karen Janes Woditsch; The Bodacious Bobcats (band): Joe Bob, piano, guitar – Malcolm Ruhl; Jim Bob, pedal steel guitar, guitar – Louis Jay Meyers; Jon Bob, guitar – George Sawyn; Jay Bob, acoustic and electric bass – Craig McClelland; June Bob, fiddle, guitar – Lynn Gudmundsen; Bob Bob, drums – Bruce Newbern.

Songs

“Honky Tonk Merry Go Round”

“Back in Baby’s Arms”

“Anytime”

“Walkin’ After Midnight”

“I Fall to Pieces”

“It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels”

“Come on In (And Sit Right Down)”

“Your Cheatin’ Heart”

“Stupid Cupid”

“You Belong to Me”

“San Antonio Rose”

“Lovesick Blues”

“Sweet Dreams”

“She’s Got You”

“Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray”

“Crazy”

“Seven Lonely Days”

“If I Could See the World (Through the Eyes of a Child)”

“Just a Closer Walk”

“Blue Moon of Kentucky

“Gotta Lotta Rhythm”
“Shake Rattle and Roll”

“Faded Love”

“How Great Thou Art”

“True Love”

“If You’ve Got Leavin’ on Your Mind”

“Bill Bailey”

***

The show is part concert and part play. Something like 60 percent is Christine Mild singing.

Patsy Cline is depicted singing, with a live band coloring the background, at such venues as a national radio show, a ballroom in Houston (where Louise Seger lives) and The Grand Ole Opry, and in the bedroom of Louise Seger’s young son.

It’s all based on fact, and one interesting thing is the Patsy Cline legend continues to connect 51 years after her death at age 30 in an airplane crash.

Another interesting thing is this show continues to connect 26 years after creator Ted Swindley’s somewhat accidental discovery of the Louise Seger-Patsy Cline close friendship.

Other interesting things turn around a phrase: Singing the songs of Patsy Cline. I can sing the songs of Patsy Cline. Anybody can. Christine Mild is charged with the challenge of singing the songs of Patsy Cline as Patsy Cline would sing the songs. Patsy Cline’s voice was (still is, on recordings) loaded with nuances and hues distinctive to Patsy Cline that can be imitated but not exactly produced. In a sense (and I use the words only for effect and not accusingly), Christine Mild is a forger, a counterfeiter. Christine Mild is real good at getting close to the real thing. Singing the songs of Patsy Cline, Part II: This production is an elevated form of singing the songs of Patsy Cline. From scratch, Peninsula Players Theatre has built the aura of the venues, particularly the wood-beamed ballroom that’s plastered with band photos on its walls – and a key Schlitz beer sign. From scratch, the clothing of Patsy Cline has been built for Christine Mild, from the poke-in-the-eye cowgirl look of her early country music career to the flashy gowns as she crossed onto the popular scene. The band also was built for this production, with the music director/pianist and steel guitar player augmented by Door County pros.

In a sense, this is not the Patsy Cline story. It is the story of Louise Seger and how her dogged fan-fanaticism eventually turned the key to some of what made Patsy Cline click. It’s a behind-the-scenes story, the dream of every fan (no matter who the star) that comes true…and years later becomes truer…and years later becomes this “Always…Patsy Cline” and continues to fascinate people. Director Brian Russell collaborates with Karen Janes Woditsch in finessing the character of Louise Seger. She’s a come-on-in-and-sit-down-at-my-table person. A piece of work. A character. A bit of a clown, a bit of a pushy broad, a bit of a pal. A life force. All that pours from Karen Janes Woditsch. Plus, she has a knack for working the audience.

The production is an enriching, entertaining experience – 5 stars out of 5.

Performances continue to Oct. 19. Info: www.peninsulaplayers.com.

THE VENUE: The location is about atmosphere – tall cedars and pines and shoreline vistas. The 621-seat Peninsula Players Theatre features Door County limestone in its interior décor. When the weather is friendly, the wood slats of the side walls are rolled open to the outside. For cool fall nights, the theater floor is equipped with radiant heating for comfort. While the company dates back 79 years, the theater building is of 2006 vintage. The playhouse and theater were built on the site of the previous structure. The location on the shores of Green Bay provides playgoers with pre-show picnicking and viewing the sunset. Here’s a theatrical rarity: The Players’ starting time changes in fall, going to 7 p.m. to better view sunsets.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air segments on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

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