Last Sunday I drove to Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre on the northwest side of Indianapolis to hear a tribute to one of my favorite singers. I was surprised and delighted to learn that “Always…Patsy Cline” is not “just” Christine Mild as Patsy singing song after song – although I am sure I would have enjoyed that, too, because Christine Mild is stunning in this role – but also the story of an actual friendship that developed between Patsy and one of her fans, Louise Seger.
The show is funny, touching, musically satisfying…a true pleasure.
There is no fourth wall in this show. Erin Parker plays Louise Seger, a divorced young mother in Houston, Texas. The year is 1957, but Louise talks directly to us in the audience, joking with us, referring to Indianapolis country music station 95.5 WFMS, and telling us how she happened to become friends with Patsy Cline.
It started one night when she heard “this chunky little country girl” singing her heart out on the Arthur Godfrey Show. (And as Louise is telling us about this from her kitchen, Patsy appears in front of the microphone in another part of the stage.)
“That was how I wanted to sing,” Louise tells us. “It made me feel alive.”
I know exactly what she means!
The next morning, Louise calls up the radio announcer on her local station, WKIKK, and requests that they play anything by Patsy Cline. She gets so that she is calling the radio station every day, maybe even every hour. The disc jockey comes to recognize her voice.
One day Louise hears that Patsy is coming to a local honky-tonk to perform live! She drags her boss and her boyfriend along – Erin Parker is a hoot, imitating each of these men for us – and they get there before anyone else arrives. When Patsy walks in, carrying her bag and looking a little dazed, Louise goes up to say hi to her. They hit it off, and Louise takes Patsy under her wing, even inviting her home for scrambled eggs after the show.
And so their friendship begins. It continues mostly through letters, which Patsy always signs “Always…Patsy Cline.”
Patsy tells us stories of her life in her songs, but Louise tells us the story of their friendship with her spoken words. Erin Parker is funny and likable as Louise.
Patsy Cline died at age 30 in a plane crash in 1963 so I never had the chance to hear her sing in person. I have only heard and seen her on recordings. Call me a fanatic, but I don’t think anyone could perfectly imitate her unique gift.
However, Christine Mild comes very close. She has what I imagine to be a similarly iconic stage presence combined with similar warmth and a similarly beautiful, deep, blow-me-away singing voice. She also seems equally at ease with her audience and equally unpretentious. As Louise says after meeting Patsy, “She was just as much ‘us’ as we were!”
When Christine sings favorite Patsy Cline songs such as “Walkin’ After Midnight” or “I Fall to Pieces” or “She’s Got You” or “Crazy” or “Back in Baby’s Arms” or any of several others, she does them all justice. She is heartbreakingly relatable when she sings the blues, and she is full of spunk (high energy) in bouncier songs such as “Stupid Cupid” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”
The Dresses, the Set, and the Bodacious Bobcats
There are many, many beautiful costume changes for Patsy in this show. I loved all of them, from her red-and-white fringed western outfit to her diamonds and purple crinolines to her fitted pink suit with cream high heels and more. Dale Dibernardo designed the costumes.
Michael Layton designed the set, which includes a huge radio dial overhead that lights up whenever Louise is listening to one of her requests of Patsy’s songs. The B&B stage’s turntable gets a rest for this show, but a small, round platform slides forward and back under a tight circle of marquee lights whenever Patsy is singing at the Grand Ole Opry. A few historically accurate set pieces and Ryan Koharchik’s lighting design take us easily to Louise’s kitchen and to the local honky-tonk as well. Elizabeth Stark is the stage manager.
The band, which Patsy introduces as the Bodacious Bobcats, is larger and fills up most of the intimate B&B stage for this show instead of being just a few musicians up in the loft. They are characters in the story, too, and Patsy and Louise both interact with them from time to time. I had thought that Patsy only called her husband “hoss” (not sure why I thought that) but now I know that apparently any man is fair game for that nickname. Maybe I will start calling men “hoss,” too, and see what happens.
The band includes: Terry Woods on piano, Tim Kelly on drums, Michael Clark on pedal steel guitar, Jayson Elliott on upright bass, Sarah Hund on fiddle and acoustic guitar, and Marc Imboden on guitar.
They all sound rich and good. Musical direction is by Terry Woods. Sound design is by Daniel Hesselbrock. Technical director is Bill Mollencupp.
Christine Mild directed this show, with assistance from Jeff Stockberger. At intermission, I overhead someone from the B&B staff greet the people sitting in front of me and ask them how they were enjoying the show. The husband said, “This is a good one! We like this! That girl (Christine Mild) can sing! And that other girl (Erin Parker) is as funny as that tall guy that we like so much. What’s his name again, dear? Oh, yes. Jeff Stockberger.” The B&B staff person told his friends that Jeff would appear on stage later, as a stage hand. And sure enough, he did!
I normally wouldn’t spoil the ending, but you may be wondering if this show is a downer since it is about a beloved singer that died too young. It is sad, of course, when Louise tells about learning of Patsy’s death, but don’t worry: the show is not strictly chronological and it ends on an upbeat note, with the audience invited to clap and sing along with Patsy. You leave feeling glad you came.
“Always…Patsy Cline” continues at the Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through June 6, 2010. Tickets may be purchased by calling the Box Office at 317-872-9664 between 10am and 7pm Tuesday through Sunday and 10am to 6pm Mondays. Tickets range from $35 to $58 and include Chef Odell Ward’s specially prepared comfort food buffet, fruit & salad bar and unlimited coffee, tea, and lemonade.
I recommend that you spend a little extra and get dessert, too. Your server (mine was Chris this time) will bring a huge tray of choices. You can request that your choice (mine was carrot cake this time) be served during intermission with your decaf rather than right away. Yum!
‘See you at the theatres…
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com
Also follow @IndyTheatre on Twitter.com, too.
(All photos for this post were taken by Julie Curry. Roll your mouse over each photo to see the actors’ names.)