Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline

Landmark Musicals
Review by Carla Cafolla

Laurie Finnegan
Photo Courtesy of Landmark Musicals
She lived and died before I was born. Her time on earth so short, that 15 was her middle age. Denied even half the promised three score years and ten, Patsy Cline's music continues to accompany us, decade after decade, into a new century—and a new millennium. Posthumous accolades honoring her achievements and myriad contributions to music, and to the status of women in the world of music, guide many great performers even today.

Possessing a wonderfully rich contralto, her low, effortlessly weighted emotive range was central to her recognition as one the earliest "Crossover Queens" of country and pop music. Additionally, her tone and delicate vocal artistry easily embraced other genres such as honky-tonk, rockabilly and gospel, with her "torch" rendition of "Crazy," written by a young (if you can even imagine that) Willie Nelson, voted in 1999 as the #1 greatest jukebox hit of all time.

On opening night's performance of A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline, barely written by Dean Regan, we the audience, ushered by Little Big Man, the host of WINC Radio (played by William Lang), wandered strategically through Cline's life, witnessing many of her professional highlights and hearing some of her life choices, from her teenage beginnings to her sudden end.

Despite a lifetime's deliberate avoidance of anything "country" on either side of the Atlantic, I found myself humming along to many of the numbers belted out by the titular character, enthusiastically performed by Laurie Finnegan—the same Laurie Finnegan who played the same role in the same play in UNM's Rodey Theatre in 2010. In fact, further research reveals a Patsy in deja vu land, where many of the original cast recreated their individual roles right in front of me more than a decade later.

Undeterred by any of my personal misgivings, this almost two hour show (including intermission) was well received by the small appreciative audience, many of whom applauded spontaneously throughout. And it is an enjoyable performance—we trip back and forth through time, sometimes backstage in the radio studio, other times onstage with Patsy at the Grand Ole Opry, at Carnegie Hall, or in a casino. Lang, with his chatty fireside manner as WINC host, lulls us into "a word from our sponsor" advertisements, hilariously performed by Cline's backup singers, "The Jordanaires," composed of the real-life barbershop quartet of Tim McAlpine, Ron Bronitsky, Michael Busse, and Matt Vaive. With gentle understated movements, beautiful harmonies, and perfect comedic timing, they steal the stage before fading into the background, waiting, as we are, for their next moment.

Lang plays a number of characters in addition to his primary role of WINC host. And it's within these characters where the production falters. As a tribute to Patsy Cline, this production is a success. Finnegan gives it her all, aware throughout she is honoring, not imitating, Cline. As host, Lang holds the loose plot together with the little he is given by the author. Why Regan then uses his other characters (the Grand Ole Opry comic, and the Vegas comic) as vehicles to spout diatribes, very thinly disguised as humor, of abuse against women is jarring. And unnecessary.

The ladder Cline climbs could have been interspersed with references to sexual inequality, etc., if it was fundamental to our understanding of the hurdles she faced finding success as a performer. But given that Cline was an independent, strong-minded woman who left school early to support her family when her father deserted them, who cheerfully divorced her first husband, and was the first female to wear pants on the Grand Ole Opry stage, the decision to repeatedly highlight the era's ongoing casual derision of women seems a peculiar slight by the author, Cline's widower. That a woman's place was in the home was clearly indicated in the amusing yet very telling advertising ditties. Regan may have found himself the next ex-Mr. Cline had misfortune not stepped in.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience. And the audience also seemed to. I've no doubt the scene where news of the accident is brought to the news desk will be given greater emphasis so the audience can realize this is a deliberate event by an actor, and not a stagehand trying to unobtrusively give Mr. Lang a note during the performance.

Costuming is really well done. Many of the outfits worn by Finnegan onstage look remarkably like what Cline wore while adorning the covers of her albums (remember them?). Fringes, rhinestones and glitz, cowboy boots, hats and hair, all did their magic. Attributed to Gail Smart in the program, I think kudos is also due to Dean Squibb for his invaluable contribution to the 2010 production, some of which I have no doubt reappeared today.

The onstage band—great. The set—simple, functional and unobtrusive. Perhaps invest a few extra buck so the stars reach from top to bottom.

If you like Patsy Cline, you will love this. If you don't know, or don't like her, you'll still really enjoy this. With a fairly short run, you better get tickets before it's gone. And bring earplugs—my companion almost deafened me with her whooping and hollering.

A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline runs through July 25, 2021, at Sandia Preparatory School, 532 Osuna Road NE, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:00 p.m., Sunday at 2:00 p.m. For tickets and information visit Tickets also available at the door.