Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's review of Altar Boyz
While many people are aware of Cline's music and that she died in a plane crash, the musical (created by and with a book by Ted Swindley) shows how she also had a strong relationship with her fans. Set in 1961, two years before the plane crash, Always...Patsy Cline focuses on the friendship Cline had with Louise Seger, a Houston housewife who befriended Cline at a local concert. Cline and Seger became friends who wrote to each other over the next two years, until Cline's sudden death at the young age of 30. Swindley crafted a piece that uses dialogue depicting the conversations they had and the letters they wrote. The title of the show comes from how Patsy would sign her letters and the show is mainly set on the night Cline spent at Seger's home after her local concert.
Swindley does a nice job intertwining the personal stories Seger shares about the relationship she had with Cline and what her music meant to her, with musical performances of Cline's famous songs. The show is told entirely from Seger's point of view and she has the only dialogue, which does make the dramatic element a bit lopsided, but director Debra K. Stevens does a very good job incorporating Cassie Chilton into some of the dialogue scenes and Katie McFadzen into the musical sequences to help balance the show out. Stevens also makes great use of the realistic set by Aaron Jackson, which is divided into three sections (Louise's kitchen, a bar, and a bandstand), and ensures that her two actresses create realistic individuals, the dramatic scenes ring true, and the comedy moments in the show shine.
Cassie Chilton is superb as Cline. Her rich, detailed singing voice and nuanced vocal abilities echo the throaty and deep signature sound of Cline in a wide range of musical styles, from country to gospel, hymns, and even a touch of early rock 'n' roll. If you're a Patsy Cline fan you will find much to love and admire in Chilton's excellent vocal performance as well as her ability in just a few pieces of dialogue to make Cline a grounded, real person. Katie McFadzen is a comical hoot as the wise-cracking and lovable Louise. Through assured line delivery and bright facial expressions, McFadzen makes Louise a smart and sassy, no-nonsense broad who is full of life and love. Together, McFadzen and Chilton beautifully and realistically depict the friendship these two women shared.
Kevin Robert White's music direction and Joshua Condon's conducting of the excellent five-piece, onstage band, deliver rich and impressive notes. Ashley Gamba's costumes for Chilton are superb, with numerous designs that are beautiful and period perfect. Josh Lutton's hair designs are excellent. The lighting design by Nathaniel White is infused with nuance and color, and Ryan Peavey's sound design delivers crisp notes and vocals throughout.
Always...Patsy Cline at The Phoenix Theatre Company features impeccable performances, clear direction, and impressive creative aspects. While it may be a slight and simple show, it's also a charming musical and an important reminder of the musical accomplishments of Cline, who died so young, and the strong connection she had with her fans.
Always...Patsy Cline runs through August 7, 2022, at The Phoenix Theatre Company, 1825 N Central Avenue, Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, please visit phoenixtheatre.com or call 602-254-2151.
Director: Debra K. Stevens
Cast (in alphabetical order):
* Members of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors & stage managers in the U.S.