Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Reprise Review: Zesty ‘Always… Patsy Cline’ Returning in New London

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Wolf River Theatrical Troupe Always Patsy Cline poster_1529242761429.jpg.jpg

A production of “Always… Patsy Cline” that hit the spot last year is being repeated by Wolf River Theatrical Troupe starting Friday, June 22, at Real Opportunities Outreach Center. Info: wrtt.org.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. June 22-24 and 28-30.

Written by Ted Swindley, the musical is directed for the troupe by Margie Brown.

“Always… Patsy Cline” is based on the true story of country music star Patsy Cline’s friendship with Houston housewife Louise Seger. The show combines humor, sadness and reality. It offers audiences a chance to look back at Cline’s music and life (cut short by an airplane crash) while giving idea of what seeing her was like and what she meant to her fans.

The show includes 27 of Cline’s songs, many of them hits.

Wolf River Theatrical Troupe’s original production was very popular – thus this return offering.

Here are excerpts from my review for WFRV-TV from opening night in July 2017:

“Sometimes, things come naturally. Like Friday night at a jammed theater.

“A popular country song starts, and the performer is applauded. It’s just like what happens at a concert with star.

“Songs with a beat come with the audience clapping along.

“As a little story unfolds in the show, the audience grows super-quiet. It’s just like what happens at plays when the audience is so wrapped up that you can hear a pin drop.

“This show is about a beloved star’s ‘No. 1 fan,’ and the woman playing this fan is so enthusiastic and natural that she seems like the real thing.

“Also, the singer playing the star in the show has a voice with warm similarities to that of the real star.

“If shows could be bottled, this one would be labeled Special Elixir and placed on a prominent shelf.

“The show is ‘Always… Patsy Cline’ presented by Wolf River Theatrical Troupe…

“Molly Stillwell performs as Patsy Cline. Debbie Martin plays the fan, Louise Seger. Helping put many pieces together is director Margie Brown.

“Synopsis, with the situation coming from real life: Louise has been following Patsy and her hits through the mid-1950s to now, May 29, 1961. Patsy has come to Houston on tour by herself. At the venue, Louise strikes up a friendship with Patsy. Patsy ends up at Louise’s house for late-night bacon and eggs and sharing of secrets. The friendship lasts beyond the night.

“This show is a showcase of 27 songs of Patsy built around that story. Louise’s kitchen is important. Patsy is seen appearing at the Grand Ole Opry, on TV and the Esquire Ballroom in Houston, plus other places.

“Importantly, the show has Patsy as a clothes horse. Molly Stillwell comes out in a series of gowns and dress wear and flashy outfits (and a robe at Louise’s house) as Patsy would wear in concert. This production is something of a ’50s-’60s fashion show.

“Importantly, Molly Stillwell moves comfortably in the Patsy Cline vocal range. There’s fullness and color and a bit of a lilt. Melancholy is always nearby. Of course, Patsy Cline had a distinctive voice that can be picked out (still) in the crowd of country music voices, but Molly Stillwell does the voice justice. Oh, some songs come off better than others, but the flavor of most of the 27 songs (that’s a lot!) is there.

“Most importantly in this show, Debbie Martin FLIES as fantastic fan Louise. Martin is a live wire as she kids in character – and with the audience. She has a Southern accent from having lived in West Virginia, which is perfect for her character. She’s energetic, limber, radiantly expressive, eager and as good of a Louise Seger as you could ask for in an ‘Always… Patsy Cline’ production. Martin seems to be spontaneous, too. Friday, the live band (which adds to the aura) on stage laughed in surprise at some of her off-the-cuff antics. The band also plays with her and off of her, notably drummer Bruce Lee.

“The stage is made up as Louise’s kitchen and bits and pieces from the story, notable table and some of the look of the Esquire Ballroom. Projections on a screen at the back of the stage help place times and places in Patsy’s life.”

The 2017 production was on my year-end list of best local productions, with this note: “Two local actors hit on all cylinders as two unlikely women friends.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays.

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