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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Stars nail historical counterparts in ‘Always, Patsy Cline’ on Spokane Valley Summer Theatre stage

Andrea Olsen, left and Haliey Weber are photographed at the theater at University High School in Spokane Valley on Monday, June 17, 2019. Olsen is playing Patsy Cline and Weber is playing Louise in Spokane Valley Summer Theater's production of "Always Patsy Cline." (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

If Patsy Cline were the Madonna, that’d make steel guitar the Holy Spirit. And boy, does it move you.

It only makes sense then that the play “Always, Patsy Cline,” would pull you into its world with the bitter-sweet instrumental drawl of its band, The Bodacious Bobcats. Up comes Patsy to the red and white mic stand of the Grand Ole Opry. You can almost hear the static crackle of the show coming over the Opry’s radio broadcast.

When Andrea Olsen emerges as Patsy Cline, you can’t help but be a bit starstruck right off. Red light glows like an aura off her Western fringe dress, and you have to remind yourself she’s not the real thing. Starting with “Honky Tonk Merry Go Round,” Olsen’s gleaming performance crafts the tone of the show and welcomes you in for a rousing good time.

The set, designed by Michael J. Muzatko, is perfect in its minimalism, replicating the look of the television special broadcasts of the time. Belief is suspended, and the audience finds itself applauding after each song. You’re not watching a play. You’re the audience of a country music concert.

Follow the radio waves from the Grand Ole Opry through a portable radio into a white and yellow kitchen, and there you’ll find Louise Seger singing along as she pours her morning coffee. Here is our guide to the Patsy Cline experience, someone who knows it first hand.

Louise is the soul of America. She has as much of a sense of humor as she does a stubborn strain, and she’s star crazy. There’s nothing about her that isn’t genuine, and that must have been what sparked her friendship with Patsy Cline.

Haliey Weber is perfectly suited for the part. Her ecstatic energy takes the audience hostage from the start. Unless you knew better, it would be easy to believe they had imported a true Texan for the part. Boisterous but authentic, Weber conjures the quintessential Hometown USA gal. She makes you feel right at home, but she’ll be sure to put you in your place if you’re not showing the proper appreciation for her favorite song.

Showcasing her comedic genius, Weber delivers a charismatic and physical performance that will truly make you bust a gut. She stomps, thrusts, kicks, shakes her fringe and occasionally sobs over an ashtray to Patsy’s tunes. Weber has no fear of making the audience blush. Her comedic pacing is never rushed, and you’ll be squirming and giggling while she makes it known that her special night-out getup fits her like a glove.

There is a harmonious juxtaposition between Weber and Olsen, just as there was between Louise and Patsy. Olsen portrays Patsy with a glamorous poise. Her veteran acting experience comes through in the nuances she gives Patsy. There is not much dialogue in this musical to delve deep into the character and back story of Patsy Cline, but in this case, it isn’t needed. Olsen captures the mournful yet hopeful essence of Patsy, not only through mannerism but also through expertly recreating the emotional expressions of her iconic voice.

Olsen’s grace and technical expertise bring Patsy to life. To play such a cherished yet enigmatic persona is no easy task, but Olsen makes it look effortless. She makes you remember why Patsy Cline became so iconic, but doesn’t leave you forgetting her humanity. Olsen imbues Patsy with a small-town humility that will break your heart and leave you feeling connected to a character that otherwise, with her tragically short life, feels like an apparition.

The character differences between Louise and Patsy were no hindrance to their deep-seated bond. Olsen and Weber immerse the audience into the rich sisterhood and earthly understanding shared between Patsy and Louise – a starstruck obsession that grew into a modest correspondence between two women with an innate understanding of one another’s day-to-day joys and struggles.

Under the direction of Yvonne A.K. Johnson, “Always, Patsy Cline” weaves elements of audience-pleasing performances and technical expertise. Paired with music director, and pianist of The Bodacious Bobcats, Drew Olsen, the audience is treated with concert-level performances and sound work.

Though Patsy’s tale doesn’t have a happy ending, it doesn’t stop this musical from making you understand the joy of life the way Patsy did, embracing its full spectrum from heartbreak to everlasting friendship. Weber brings the charisma and Olsen brings the romance, together making this musical a contagious celebration of life.