Review: Always . . . Patsy Cline

Kara Chapman in Always . . . Patsy Cline                                         Photo by Joshua McGowen

By Larry Laneer
June 10, 2018

You can’t completely dismiss an evening of artfully crafted songs performed by top-notch musicians. And that’s what you get in Pollard Theatre Company’s Always . . . Patsy Cline. Why Pollard wanted to revive this production after staging it in 2015 remains a mystery. Opening night had a full, if not sold-out house, and Pollard reports this show sold well three years ago. Maybe that’s the answer. The show sells tickets. Or to put it less capitalistically, audiences want to see this show.

Kara Chapman returns to play Patsy Cline, and Jodi Nestander reprises her role as friend Louise Seger. Created by Ted Swindley, the show is based on a true story. Louise, an avid Patsy fan, meets the singer early in her career, and they become lifelong friends. The title refers to how Patsy would sign her many letters to Louise.

Timothy Stewart has staged the production again with costumes and scenery by Michael James. James’s scenic design consists of several panels of dark wood slats, giving the set an appealing, uncluttered look. His costumes reflect Patsy’s success and transition from “country gal” (her term) to country/pop star. In her first scene, Patsy wears a red dress with long white fringe. She evolves to more stylish suits and dresses. Louise wears jeans tucked into her red cowboy boots with a matching red belt and fringed western shirt.

Chapman and Nestander have grown into their roles. Chapman’s credible rendition of Patsy’s songs and between-song banter bears confident authenticity.

But the show is as much about Louise and devoted fandom as it is a dramatized biography of Patsy. Nestander has broadened and deepened her performance. She goes up to the edge of being over the top. Her Louise is down-to-earth, but a little of her goes a long way. It would be nice to see Nestander stretch out the tragic scene a little more. (Patsy died at age 30 in a 1963 plane crash that also killed country singers Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas.)

But Louise’s scenes exist to segue from one Patsy song to another. The singer did not write her own music, but she selected work of some of the leading songsmiths in the last century, including Cole Porter, Willie Nelson, and Neil Sedaka. Avid Patsy fans may not hear every favorite, but they will get a variety of songs from throughout the singer’s short career. The first act opens with “Honky Tonk Merry Go Round” and ends with “Love Sick Blues.” The second act begins with “Sweet Dreams” and winds up with “Bill Bailey” (audience sing along encouraged.) Several songs get recognition applause. A sharp four-piece band in black cowboy hats accompanies the show (electronic keyboard, bass, drums, and fiddle doubling guitar).

Always . . . Patsy Cline has been staged here several times. This is at least the fourth production I’ve reviewed. Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre did a different Patsy Cline show earlier this season. Enough already with the Patsy Cline shows. Theater companies should shelve Always . . . Patsy Cline for a few years. But it rates revival in the future.

Always . . . Patsy Cline by Ted Swindley
Pollard Theatre Company
8:00 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, through June 30
2:00 p.m. Sunday, June 17 and 24

8:00 p.m. Thursday, June 21 and 28
Pollard Theatre
120 W. Harrison Ave., Guthrie