Theater review: Nelson shines in Patsy Cline musical memoir
Nearly a decade later, Interplayers Theatre brings back its tried-and-true production of Ted Swindley’s musical revue “Always … Patsy Cline.” It’s hard to imagine the theater’s wildly popular 2003 show – whose run was extended twice – could’ve been any more heartwarming and worthwhile than the current production, starring Cheyenne Nelson playing one of the 20th century’s most celebrated female vocalists.
The show triumphs mostly because of Nelson’s ability to convey Patsy Cline’s distinct, full-bodied contralto vocals and emotional honesty. Its success also depends on the overall easy delivery of Swindley’s interesting storyline, centering on the real-life friendship and pen-pal relationship Cline developed with fan Louise Seger in 1961, until her tragic death in a plane crash at the age of 30, in 1963.
Nelson lives up to her designation as one of only four actresses in the nation who have been approved by Patsy Cline’s estate to portray the late country legend. Every aspect Swindley intends for the audience to grasp about the singer’s life – her elegance, vulnerability, modesty and remarkable talent – translate clearly through Nelson, under Ken Urso’s direction.
Poised in her cocktail gown, brunette bouffant and pearls amid a halo of sapphire light, Nelson solemnly croons “You Belong to Me” and “Walkin’ After Midnight,” so convincingly, it’s almost as if you are watching the real thing. It’s only during more upbeat numbers that Nelson’s less-than-subtle facial expressions and Elvis-like body exaggerations remind you that she is doing an impression. Through both dialogue and song, she shares a nice rapport with Caryn Hoaglund-Trevett, who plays Louise, a happily divorced housewife who befriends the star before her performance in Houston’s Esquire Ballroom. A curly, blond-haired spitfire, Hoaglund-Trevett delights the audience with her comedic sassiness and narrates the show in a believable Southern accent. Hoaglund-Trevett also does a good job of keeping Louise’s bold character from overshadowing the spotlight on Nelson’s Cline.
Nelson’s sparkling renditions of the show’s 27 songs are well accompanied by the five-piece, onstage band, known as “The Bodacious Bobcats Band.” Standouts include pianist and musical director Jim Ryan and fiddle player Shelley Rotz.
Other production elements such as the rustic performance hall backdrop and ’60s kitchen and living room by set designer Jason Laws, retro costuming by Janna Creswell and lighting design by Justin Schmidt further set a hospitable mood.
Director Urso fittingly describes this show as a musical memoir. Rather than recounting Cline’s life story to its very last detail, Swindley’s revue brilliantly manages to zero in on a particular relationship of the singer’s life that is so special it encompasses everything about her.