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THEATER REVIEW: Always...Patsy Cline

Crazy Feeling: A musical revue every fan can love

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Always...Patsy Cline
Jan. 18, 19, 25, 26, 8 p.m.
Jan. 20, 27, 3 p.m.
Feb. 1, 2, 8 p.m.
Feb. 3, 3 p.m.
$25-$26.50
Village Playhouse
730 Coleman Blvd.,
(843) 856-1579
www.villageplayhouse.com

Vintage dresses and bouffant hair do not a Patsy make.

You don't have a show unless you have the voice.

Fortunately, Lindsay Luden Welch, star of the Village Playhouse production of Always...Patsy Cline, has the pipes to revive the iconic country legend.

Visually, audiences have become familiar with the Behind the Music-style biopic genre over the past few years. Films like Ray and Walk the Line have waxed nostalgic on bygone days and beloved songs. They are memorials to lost artists.

Always is similar in intent, but the storytelling differs.

The tale goes like this: Louise Seeger (Susie Hallatt), a Texas divorcee and mother of two, hears Cline on the Arthur Godfrey Show. She becomes so smitten with that heart-aching sound of lost love and loneliness that she calls the local radio station every hour on the hour to request more and more Patsy Cline.

When Cline arrives in Houston to perform at the Esquire Ballroom, Louise meets the artist by chance. Cline ends up spending the night at Louise's house. They share eggs, bacon, and stories. Ultimately, they develop a friendship that will last until Cline's untimely death in a plane crash in 1963.

It's every fanatic's dream.

Yet Hallatt keeps the fanatic in Always funny rather than freaky.

Louise, a boisterous and ballsy character, directs the narrative. Her fast-talking country vernacular adds to the comic relief. So smooth, in fact, is her comic timing that Hallatt managed to cover up memory lapse.

"You ever have a senior moment?" she said quickly.

It was quickly followed by billowing laughter.

Hallatt, no stranger to the Village Playhouse, does a terrific job putting the root-tootin' into a show that would otherwise qualify as a greatest hits concert.

Always packs 23 songs into two hours — a real testament to Luden Welch's voice, which reproduces Cline's sultry stylings and gestures with parrot-like mimicry.

One shouldn't expect less, however, as this is Welch's third reprisal of the role following productions of Patsy at the 2004 and 2005 Piccolo Spoleto Festivals. Director Sheri Grace Wenger is also a veteran. This is her sixth time producing Always. But practice evidently has not made for perfection.

While characters keep songs and humor afloat, the pacing is too slow. There's little movement or none at all. Patsy either stations herself center stage, far left, or far right for each song. Meanwhile Louise flits between a '50s kitchen set and a bar-style table at stage left. Granted this is a cabaret/singalong-type affair — you're not really there to see a two-step — but ultimately blocking felt uninspired.

However, the band, wearing ten-gallon white cowboy hats and black western ware, excelled under the direction of pianist Justin Wham. Those first few chords are a critical feature of any Patsy Cline song. That signature introduction announcing your heart's about to melt, the tinkling of piano keys letting you know it's okay to fall in love again — that's a Patsy Cline song.

And that's what the band did in spades.

Without them, Welch would be one lonely cowgirl up there.

Luckily, not only did she have the band to keep her company but part of the audience, too. Warning: Some audience participation is required. It's hardly a problem given that Patsy lovers are eager, maybe too eager, to lend their voices.

One man whispered, "I saw Patsy Cline perform in Chicago in 1956 and this gal is exactly like her." I'm too young to contest, so you'll have to take his word for it. But I do know this: Any Patsy fan will be greatly pleased with the Village Playhouse production — sparse sets and minimal action notwithstanding.

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