Firebrand Theatre’s ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE is both a lovely tribute to female friendship and Patsy Cline’s iconic song catalog (the musical features more than 25 of Patsy’s songs). Ted Swindley’s show, here directed by Brigitte Ditmars, is based on the real-life friendship between Patsy and one of her most fervent fans, Louise Seger. After a chance encounter at one of Patsy’s concert engagements in 1961, Louise and Patsy struck up a friendship that lasted the rest of the singer’s life. Because the musical incorporates so many of Patsy’s iconic country songs, however, it manages to avoid becoming too trite in relaying its story. Instead, ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE becomes unquestionably enjoyable as it’s presented more as a concert with a storyline. It’s a format that works, and works well.
Of course, ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE would not succeed without two formidable actors in the roles of Patsy and Louise. On opening night, Christina Hall played the role of Patsy, while Firebrand Artistic Director Harmony France took on Louise with great aplomb. Both actors will alternate roles throughout the course of the run (Hall and France have both previously played Patsy in other productions.) This particular pairing is downright delectable. France nails all of Louise’s eccentricities; she’s also a natural at engaging with the audience. She makes Louise’s unending appreciation for Patsy entirely clear, and she delivers each of her lines with genuine affection. Hall is nothing short of stunning as Patsy herself. Vocally, she has an uncanny resemblance to Patsy, but she makes the emotions in each song feel fresh. Hall delivers Patsy’s powerhouse songs one after the other, and she makes it seem as easy as breathing. She tears into such hits as “I Fall to Pieces,” “Walking After Midnight,” and “Stupid Cupid” as if it’s no skin off her back. Evidently, it cannot be easy to deliver all those songs, but Hall does it beautifully.
Together, France and Hall have an easy rapport reflective of Patsy and Louise’s real-life friendship. France leans into Louise’s quirks, which are balanced by Hall’s ability to capture Patsy’s innate shyness. They also have a number of fun interactions with the band, comprised of music director and keyboard player Andra Velis Simon, guitarist Steven Romero Schaeffer, fiddle player Emma Sheikh, and drummer Tina Muñoz Pandya.
From a programming perspective, ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE is a great choice for Firebrand. The production’s intimate nature is a natural fit for The Den Theatre’s Bookspan space. The show’s celebration of female friendship fits with Firebrand’s mission without feeling over-the-top. And of course, the musical incorporates just about as many songs as a two-hour show can. Production-wise, set designer Lauren Nichols gives the space a great concert vibe, and Steph Taylor’s costume designs give Patsy the star power she deserves.
Above all, Hall’s remarkable vocals as she makes her way through Patsy Cline’s catalog are reason enough to see ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE. Add in France’s easy charm as Louise and her fun banter with the audience, and Firebrand has put together quite an enjoyable evening.
Firebrand Theatre’s ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE is now extended through January 4, 2020 at The Den Theatre’s Janet Bookspan Theatre, 1331 North Milwaukee Avenue. Tickets are $40-$50. Visit FirebrandTheatre.org.
Photo Credit: Michael Brosilow
Originally published on BroadwayWorld.com