Review: ‘Always … Patsy Cline’

Fans of Patsy Cline, the late, great country diva, will no doubt flock to "Always ... Patsy Cline," especially to hear the strong-voiced Tori Lynn Palazola croon and belt the songs that made Cline famous. But the uninitiated will find this revue disappointing.

Fans of Patsy Cline, the late, great country diva, will no doubt flock to “Always … Patsy Cline,” especially to hear the strong-voiced Tori Lynn Palazola croon and belt the songs that made Cline famous. But the uninitiated will find this revue disappointing. Billed as a new musical even though it’s been performed around the country since 1988, “Always” is basically a retrospective of Cline’s hits. Anyone wanting to learn about the woman behind the singer will walk away hungry.

Cline had one of those heartbreakingly brief careers of which country legends are made. Born Virginia Patterson Hensley in 1932 to a working-class Virginia family, she came to fame singing the melodious Don Hecht-Allan Block tune “Walkin’ After Midnight” on Arthur Godfrey’s “Talent Scouts.” Her expressive voice and honest delivery soon took her to the top of the country music charts and made her the first female country vocalist to hit big on the pop charts as well. In 1963, at the age of 30, she died in a plane crash en route from Kansas City to Nashville.

In “Always,” writer-director Ted Swindley weaves a thin book around the friendship between Cline and a warm-hearted Texas housewife named Louise Seger (the appealingly buoyant Margo Martindale). With a middle-aged Louise as narrator, the show takes the audience back to when she first hears Cline on the radio, and then to Cline’s 1961 appearance at Houston’s Esquire Ballroom, where Louise meets and befriends her idol.

The device of radio and TV broadcasts and the Houston concert gives Palazola a chance to sing more than 20 wonderful Cline numbers, from the soft and sexy “I Fall to Pieces” to the driving, rock ‘n’ roll-style “Gotta Lot of Rhythm in My Soul.” Palazola has a sure, fulsome voice, and she looks amazingly like the dark-haired Cline, especially in the cowgirl outfits and spangly, cinch-waisted costumes Thom Heyer has designed. (She’d sound even better if the six-person band, led by Gene Hicks on the piano, didn’t drown out her quiet moments.)

But in what barely passes for a book, Palazola plays an icon who sings but has practically nothing to say. Whatever Cline was really like, “Always” never tells, since Swindley keeps the show on the level of Louise’s adoring intros. Despite the songs, Stephen Quandt’s jazzy lighting and a fluid set from Christopher Pickart, the personality that endeared Cline to thousands of fans never shines through.

Always ... Patsy Cline

Production

An Opryland Theatricals presentation, in association with the Randy Johnson Co., of a musical in two acts written and directed by Ted Swindley.

Creative

Set, Christopher Pickart; lighting, Stephen Quandt; costumes, Thom Heyer; sound, Peter J. Fitzgerald; musical direction, Vicki Masters; production stage manager, Pamela Edington. Opened June 24, 1997, at the Variety Arts Theater. Reviewed June 21; 499 seats; $45 top. Running time: 2 HOURS.

Cast

Cast: Tori Lynn Palazola (Patsy Cline), Margo Martindale (Louise Seger).
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