Country Music Hall of Famer Patsy Cline was celebrated not only for her melodic voice and versatile repertoire but also for her warmth, humility and readiness to promote the careers of others, especially women.
First performed in 1988, Ted Swindley’s play Always … Patsy Cline builds upon the real-life acquaintance between Cline (Cori Cable Kidder) and one of her devoted fans, Louise Leger (Nikki D’Amico), which grew after the two met at one of Cline's concerts in Houston.
The piece includes an extensive medley of Cline’s greatest hits — nicely sung by Kidder and well-received by the audience the night I attended. The musical numbers are interspersed with Leger's anecdotes about how she came to know about Cline (she initially saw her, with the rest of America, on the Arthur Godfrey show in 1956), along with the subsequent flowering of their friendship, which takes place in Leger’s home where Cline has agreed to spend the night.
Not a probing work, the show’s transparent aim is to showcase Cline’s music and to use the scenes with Leger to illustrate the performer’s genuineness and unpretentious charm. On the first count, the production succeeds. Nimbly accompanied by a five-piece band under pianist Sean Paxton’s musical direction, Kidder’s able impersonation and unostentatious vocals are indubitably entertaining.
If you’re old enough to have been around when Cline was, well, there’s the added bonus of a trip down memory lane.
But under Robert Marra’s direction, neither Kidder nor D’Amico brings much in the way of substance or depth to her character. When not singing, Kidder’s Cline — appealingly decked out in A. Jeffrey Schoenberg’s period costumes — is pleasant and sweet but hollow. The charisma one would expect is absent.
By contrast, D’Amico’s Leger prances and dances and drawls and gesticulates all over the place. Her energy is appreciated, but the performance is over the top. No sense of a real bond between them, or how these two people might genuinely have helped each other, is ever depicted. It’s a shortcoming embedded in the material, which is underscored by its execution.
Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; through Sept. 27. (626) 355-4318, sierramadreplayhouse.org.
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