Cori Cable Kidder delivers a star-making performance as country music legend Patsy Cline in Sierra Madre Playhouse’s season-opening revival of Ted Swindley’s Always … Patsy Cline, easily one of the newly revitalized Playhouse’s best productions ever.
Writer/original director Swindley could have opted for the easy route and staged Always … Patsy as a traditional tribute concert featuring over two dozen of Miss Cline’s Greatest Hits, and indeed Sierra Madre Playhouse audiences do get treated to a grand total of twenty-seven Patsy classics backed by a sensational live five-piece band led by musical director Sean Paxton.
Instead, Swindley’s late-1980s inspiration was to imagine Patsy’s extensive song catalog through the eyes and ears of real-life Houston housewife Louise Seger (Nikki D’Amico), who met her idol quite by chance in a local honky-tonk one evening back in 1961, struck up a conversation, and ended up inviting Patsy over for bacon-and-eggs, the result of which was a series of letters and phone chats that continued until the star’s untimely death at the age of thirty.
It’s this up-close-and-personal touch that makes Always … Patsy Cline far more than your standard tribute band show, giving us insight into the woman behind the hits and a friendship that could easily have lasted decades longer had Patsy not taken that ill-fated flight on March 5, 1963.
As Louise, ball-of-fire D’Amico channels Polly Holliday’s bouffant-red-wigged Flo (you remember her from TV’s Alice) opposite an absolutely stellar Kidder, who not only looks stunning in a series of early-‘60s A. Jeffrey Schoenberg knee-length gowns and quite a few spot-on Kris Fehervari brunette wigs, but sings with a country contralto even the most die-hard Patsy Cline fanatic will award thumbs-up.
And what a series of songs Kidder makes her own, far too many to list here, but they include Patsy’s Top Ten smashes “Walking After Midnight,” “I Fall To Pieces,” “Crazy,” and “She’s Got You,” plus covers of Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” Connie Francis’s “Stupid Cupid,” Bill Haley & His Comets’ “Shake, Rattle And Roll,” and the ‘50s movie classic “True Love.”
Scenic designer John Vertrees makes maximum use of Sierra Madre Playhouse’s proscenium stage, surrounding the centerstage band with a couple of terrific side sets (Louise’s kitchen on one side, the honky-tonk’s juke box corner on the other) meticulously appointed by properties designer/assistant scenic designer Erin Walley.
Completing Always … Patsy Cline’s Grade A production design is sound designer Cricket S. Myers’ pitch-perfect mix of instrumentals and vocals, with production engineer Christian Lee and the acoustically blessed Playhouse doing the rest.
You don’t have to be a country music fan to love Always … Patsy Cline. You just have to be smart enough to book your tickets early, because the latest from Sierra Madre Playhouse is likely to sell out weekend after weekend after weekend.
You’d be “Crazy” to miss this one.
Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre.
July 31, 2105
Photos: Gina Long