Dean Regan’s “A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline” offers an intimate, nostalgic stroll through much of Cline’s music but keeps the audience at an arm’s length in revealing the inspiration behind her signature songs.
Directed by Jhon Goodwin at Spokane Civic Theatre’s Firth J. Chew Studio Theatre, the show is the second of two jukebox musicals about the country legend to grace Spokane’s local theater scene this season. Similar to “Always … Patsy Cline,” presented last month by Interplayers Professional Theatre, “A Closer Walk” provides well-sung and skillfully orchestrated interpretations of Cline’s spellbinding compositions.
The show will certainly satisfy those who accept it as less of a play and more of a tribute concert. Those desiring a more insightful storyline divulging more about Cline’s offstage life – her family, two marriages and what triggered her deeply emotional tunes – will be left mostly in the dark by this production.
Stage performances are the only means of expression for Cline (Alyssa Day), and Regan doesn’t give her any real dialogue of her own. Her story is limited to the superficial narrations of a ’60s Winchester, Va., radio disc jockey known as Little Big Man (Scott Miller), who sums up the country great as “not just a songbird, but a real-life storyteller.” Miller does what he can with his character’s mechanical grab bag of radio fillers and jingles. In another role, he’s a comic who grates out cheesy one-liners to buy the audience’s time between Cline’s numerous costume changes.
Day’s unpretentious demeanor and glistening vocals, supported by a four-piece Western band led by David Brewster, are highly engaging, despite her microphone cutting out at the beginning of a few songs. Day graciously carries us through Cline’s maturation from a wide-eyed teenager in cowgirl garb auditioning at the Grand Ole Opry to a seasoned professional standing elegantly in a black ball gown before a packed house at Carnegie Hall. The set design attempts to simulate these venues, but a few of the scenic image projections are hard to decipher because they collide with the draped curtain backdrop.
Although Day’s ability to pull off Cline’s profound melancholic contralto can be a tad questionable at times, her performance of “She’s Got You” and “Sweet Dreams” toward the end of Act Two are right on the money. Most memorable is Day’s lamenting rendition of the gospel hymn “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” a foreshadowing of Cline’s death in a plane crash at age 30 in 1963.
For those who can move past its flimsy plot, “A Closer Walk” is an opportunity to bask in Cline’s musical genius.