Two stellar women pack a powerful Cape Playhouse performance of “Always, Patsy Cline,” though theirs is mostly a tale of woe.
Color mood lighting designed by Christopher Ash enhances a simple set: a raised stage. To the right is a lively six-piece orchestra. Stage-left is Louise’ Seger’s kitchen somewhere in Houston, Texas.
Patsy Cline, portrayed by Gillian Louis, passionately sings “Sweet Dreams of You.” Your heart races, then BAM! A spotlight spatters disco ball sequins everywhere you look, and gets your pulse racing.
Cline’s sound was the first to successfully cross over from country to pop music, according to the playbill. In 1957, one of her numerous hits – “Walkin’ After Midnight” – reached No. 2 on the country music chart and No. 16 on the pop music chart. This was the song she performed on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts show, which eventually led to her becoming a regular performer at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry.
The story traces Cline’s tragically short career, cut off when she died in a plane crash at age 30. She posthumously became the first female solo artist to be inducted into Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame.
It is the tale of an evolving friendship between Cline and Louise Seger, played by Sally Wilfert, a Houston divorcee who is so taken by Cline’s music that she becomes a fan, local radio promoter, pen pal and confidant. To Louise, Patsy’s is “the sweetest music this side of heaven.”
Of Cline’s 1957 radio debut, Louise says, “Her voice stopped me in my tracks. That sounds like I’ve always wanted to sing. I never forgot that voice…or the feeling it brought to me. Her music made me feel so alive...just like finding the sister I never had.”
Twenty-seven Patsy Cline songs effortlessly flow over the two-hour production, with one 15-minute intermission. Adorned in black felt cowboy hats, members of the on-stage orchestra – particularly Garrett Taylor as Joe-Bob on piano – provide exquisite harmonies for Patsy and Louise, while Tessa Sacraone on fiddle, Jay Rosen on pedal steel guitar, Rod McCaulley on stand-up base, Stephen Marchena on guitar and Doug Lippincott on drums capture Cline’s mournful musical sound.
The song playlist takes up a whole page in the 96th season program: “I Fall to Pieces,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Lovesick Blues,” “Faded Love,” and “Back in Baby’s Arms,” to name but a few. In particular, Patsy’s performance of “Crazy” in Louise’s kitchen during a chance overnight stay reveals their developing bond.
“Hey Patsy! Let’s go get us a Schlitz!” Louise says.
The songs stick in your mind and, warning, are likely to cause whistling or humming days later. That, or they catch you just trying to swallow a lump of grief.
The musical was originally written and directed by Ted Swindley, the founding artistic director of STAGES REP in Houston. He is now president of his own theatrical licensing and consulting company. The Cape Playhouse run is directed by Paige Price, a Broadway performer who just completed her fifth season as the Producing Artistic Director at Philadelphia Theater Company.
It’s no wonder Swindley’s musical also has been enjoyed from the US and Canada to the UK and Australia: “Patsy Cline’s Greatest Hits” has sold more than 10 million copies and is listed in the 2005 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records. And Patsy’s recording of Willie Nelson’s “Crazy” remains the No. 1 Jukebox Hit of all time.
“Always, Patsy Cline”
At The Cape Playhouse, Route 6A, Dennis
Through July 16
Information and reservations: 508-385-3838, capeplayhouse.com