Take one Houston Housewife, add one Country Music Superstar, connect them via a friendship expressed through a series of letters that lasted for five years (until the star’s untimely death in 1963) and what do you get? The basis for a compelling play with music titled “Always…Patsy Cline”! The latest offering by “One More Productions” at the landmark “Gem Theatre” in Garden Grove California, this irrepressibly enjoyable two-character production practically defines the term “Unique Entertainment”, with a book by Ted Swindley based on actual events, and featuring all of the renowned music of the country music legend herself, Miss Patsy Cline!
For the unenlightened out there, Patsy Cline was the ground-breaking Country music pioneer whose career flourished from the mid-1950’s until it was cut tragically short by a plane crash. Hers was one of the purest and most powerful voices in the entire history of American music of any genre, and it’s a safe bet to say were it not for Patsy, there would be no Dolly, Tammy, Loretta, Reba or Carrie! The story begins in January 1957 when, while working in her kitchen, Houston Texas housewife Louise Seger recalls that she first happened upon Patsy’s incredible voice singing “Walkin’ After Midnight” on the “Arthur Godfrey TV Show” (“She sang like I’d always wanted to sing!” Louise exults.) Sometime later, when Cline makes a public appearance at a local Houston bar, Louise describes how she made sure to get there extra early to guarantee she’d have the best seat available. This also meant she was among the very few in the place for a little bit and as luck would have it, when Patsy too arrived—alone—and slightly wary of performing in a new venue and with musicians she’d never worked with before, it afforded our gutsy heroine the unexpected fortuity to meet her idol. Sharing a quick drink at Louise’s table, the singer asks her exuberant fan if she wouldn’t mind standing by the drummer during Patsy’s ‘set’ to ensure that he kept the right ‘timing’ to her numbers, and not speed them along. Naturally Louise is more than thrilled to do this and so begins their unlikely friendship which developed into a genuine pen-pal correspondence for several years (which provides much of the dialogue here.)
Making the most of his performance space, the show is impressively directed by “One More Productions” Co-Founder, Damien Lorton. This is after all, a show that practically begs for plenty of audience participation and interaction, and the intimacy of the memories being presented are a very good fit for a venue as cozy as “The Gem” (There’s even a chance or two for a good old-fashioned sing-along which most ‘First-nighters’ there were more than eager to be a part of!) In fact, throughout the production, the audience itself, in effect ‘becomes’ the studio audiences at “The Grand Ol’ Opry”, the Houston-area honky-tonk at which Cline initially appears, or for a local radio broadcast. The result is a lively and thoroughly memorable time at the theater! “This is a different kind of show for the Gem” admitted Lorton on Opening night “—but one that deserves to be told!” More of a play with music than the usual full-blown musical offered by the company, “Always…Patsy Cline” is far more than just a simple ‘concert’ recreation of an iconic performer and her music; Seger supplies most of the narrative, directly addressing the audience, while Cline pops in and out of the action to sing some of her most famous tunes. Yep! They’re all here—Patsy’s very best, brightest, and most heart-breaking hits that truly made her “The Queen Of Country Music”. Featured among many others, are “Crazy”, “Walkin’ After Midnight”, “Sweet Dreams”, “She’s Got You” and her quintessential ‘signature’ song: “I Fall To Pieces”—as well as a few surprises.
Add to it, “Style” is also most assuredly the hallmark of this show, and in this regard, all the technical elements dynamically fulfill their obligations to the production—and then some! Wally Huntoon’s vibrant set includes the proscenium arch cut to resemble the outline of a guitar with the neon-light ‘strings’ placed on the back wall of the stage. Larry Watts colorful (frequently fringe-laden) costume designs and Randall Jones period-appropriate wig designs too, provide the perfect exclamation point to goings on—and each are sure to remind those who remember this time what country music performers actually ‘looked like” back in the days of bouffant hairdo’s, singin’ cowboys and pink Cadillacs! Not to be overlooked either are the six members of live country-blue grass band (–there’s even a fiddle player!) Together they are “The Bodacious Bobcat Band”–so named because each member has “Bob” affixed to their moniker (the Drummer is even named “Bob Bob”—because, as Patsy breezes, “He was so special his Momma named him twice!”) On stage all through the proceedings, the audience enters and is seated to their lively accompaniment; and whenever Patsy sings (even if only to herself) or Louise turns on the radio, it’s their time to shine (—and shine they most certainly do!)
“One More Productions” Co-Founder Nicole Cassesso returns before the Gem’s Footlights once again in the title role of Patsy Cline and it’s clear she’s done her homework, effectively conveying the spirit and the sound of this beloved country music legend—often down to the phrasing and very inflection of her many hits. It’s even safe to assert that here she gives an absolutely masterful performance staying startlingly true to the vocal force she’s simulating! “I Fall To Pieces” is a consummate example of her artistry in this role, and Ms. Cassesso gives it a gold medal rendition toward the center point of the first act; directly following, her “God Didn’t Make Honky-Tonk Angels” is also infectious fun loaded with plenty of down home charm. Hank William’s classic, “You’re Cheatin’ Heart” is also afforded first-class treatment, while Cassesso also has the occasion to play the Sultry Southern Siren with the classic “You Belong To Me”. Right before the act’s close she likewise delivers a bouncy and effervescent interpretation of Connie Francis’ Stupid Cupid”, then, after intermission her winning portrayal continues with the touching “If I could See the World (Through The Eyes Of A Child)” and the classic hymn “Closer Walk With Thee”, before really raising spectator’s collective spirits (and the roof) with “Blue Moon Of Kentucky”. As Louise, Dee Shandera proves a genial (and very animated) narrator and guide through the proceedings. Enthusiastically keeping things humming, she frequently interacts with those in attendance while smoothly conveying this tale of an everyday housewife’s brush with celebrity (who, under the furs and make-up, she learns, turns out to be a good ol’ country gal at heart.)
“The good Lord broke the mold when he made you!” a grateful Patsy tells her new pal when thanking her for all the kindness and hospitality Louise has shown her. Underlying Shandera’s complete likeability though, the real strength of her performance lies in its total authenticity! We’ve all known someone similar to her “Louise”—the kind of charmingly manic spit-fire such as only the Lone Star State could conjure, and she’s what makes this entire story so honest and fascinating! After the curtain call, there’s even several encores written in—among them, “Leavin’ On Your Mind” and a vivacious version of “Bill Bailey Won’t You Please Come Home”— which end the proceedings on an resoundingly positive note.
Sure as shootin’ this down-right delightful production is sure to inspire a few “sweet dreams” for everyone who sees it! Having officially opened on Saturday, April, 9th, “Always…Patsy Cline” will run through Sunday, May 1st, 2016 at “The Gem Theatre”– located at 12852 Main Street in Garden Grove, CA. Show-times are Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 PM, with Sunday Matinees at 2:00 PM; tickets may be obtained by calling “One More Productions” at (714) 741-9550, ext. 221, or logging onto www.onemoreproductions.com. Special discounts for seniors and children (12 years old and under) are available for all performances while “Student Rush” tickets are available for Thursday and Friday performances.
Production Stills By Lisa Scarsi, Courtesy Of Dan Pittman at “Pittman PR” (www.pittmanpr.com) And “One More Productions” (www.onemoreproductions.com) Special Thanks To Dan Pittman, Lisa Scarsi, Damien Lorton, Nicole Cassesso, Dee Shandera And The Musicians & Crew Of “One More Productions” “Always…Patsy Cline” For Making This Story Possible.