Review: Always, Patsy Cline at Free Range Humans

By Andrea Bush

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 15 minutes with a 10 minute intermission

Patsy Cline, a shooting star on the country music scene in the late 1950s and early 1960s, was the first woman to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Even if you aren’t a country music fan, you likely have at least a passing familiarity with some of her hits, such as “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces,” and “Walkin’ After Midnight” (notably, one of the first songs to crossover within the Country and Pop music charts). Free Range Humans‘ latest offering, Always…Patsy Cline, created by Ted Swindley and Directed by Elizabeth Lucas, with Music Direction by Marci Shegogue, is based on the true, but debated, story of Cline’s unlikely friendship with Louise Seger, a fan from Houston. The pair met in 1961 at a Texas honky-tonk where Cline was performing, became fast friends literally overnight, and maintained a correspondence until Patsy Cline’s death in 1963. A jukebox musical, Always…Patsy Cline includes 27 songs, combining Patsy’s unmistakable contralto with Louise’s somewhat wacky storytelling to send a love letter through time, both to and from Patsy Cline.

Christine Mosere as Louise Seger and Shelly Lynn Walsh as Patsy Cline. Credit: Buddy Griffin

I may not recall the first time I heard Patsy Cline’s voice as vividly as Louise did, but her music is at the heart of some of my favorite memories of my dad. So I packed my nostalgia and love for all things Patsy, along with my absolute awe at Free Range Human’s inaugural production (a near-flawless Murder Ballad), in the car and made the trek from Baltimore to Frederick. My expectations were high and I was excited to check out the show at Sky Stage, an interesting outdoor theatre space.

Unfortunately, my expectations took a hit immediately upon my arrival as I got out of the car and peered into the empty Sky Stage. Alas, Mother Nature had other plans and heavy rain throughout the afternoon had rendered the venue unfit for the performance. A sign board out front confirmed that the performance had been moved to McClintock Distilling, so I headed down the road and pointed the way for a couple of wandering patrons (note to whomever made the signage: a right arrow would be a helpful addition to clarify “just over the bridge”).

I arrived at McClintock Distilling with just under 20 minutes to show time and things were a bit turbulent, to say the least. It was very clear that this production does not have a Producer on the team whose focus is the big-picture anticipation of Plans B-Z (Director Elizabeth Lucas pulls double-duty as Producer – this happens a lot in small theatre and this is the perfect example of why it shouldn’t). I have to applaud the perseverance of the production team with the last-minute move, getting the show underway with only about a 15-minute delay.

From a production-value perspective, I have to say the show was somewhat less than I expected from the same team that put together the stellar production of Murder Ballad in June. While some of the issues certainly stem from the venue change, some seem inherent to the production.

The staging of the show at the distillery faced challenges, as the actors and audience were on the same level, which I know is not the case at Sky Stage. They did their best to mitigate the problem with a simple set including a small platform, high pub tables, and bar stools.

Shelly Lynn Walsh as Patsy Cline. Credit: Buddy Griffin

I enjoyed the use of period-appropriate pieces that served as both props and set dressing. Louise’s “kitchen table” was set with a radio, kettle, and coffee mugs that may well have come straight out of my grandmother’s house and Patsy’s dressing area was set simply with an appropriate stand mirror. My only qualm with the props was the metal water bottles used by both actors throughout the production where a simple carafe and water glass would have been more appropriate (if breakage was a concern, clear plastic would still have the right look). It may seem trivial, but it took me right out of the story every time.

Costume design by Heather C. Jackson was effective overall and she did a great job of capturing Patsy Cline’s look, especially the Western outfits that Cline’s mother made for her early appearances. I’d have liked to have seen a better-fitted costume on Louise, particularly given the several mentions in the script of her clothes fitting like a glove, but her denim-on-denim look was appropriate.

I commend Lighting Designer/Technical Director TJ Lukacsina for rigging up a couple of lighting instruments in the distillery to augment the existing lighting when others might have made do with just the ambient light in the time they had to set up. I know Lukacsina and his work well and I would have liked to have seen his actual design for the show at Sky Stage. While I can’t say that his work at the distillery was a lighting design, per se, I appreciate his effort to elevate the production as best he could given the constraints of time and space.

Sound design by Logan Waters was plagued with issues of balance between the actors and musicians. According to Waters’ bio, his background is in design for a concert setting. I am hopeful that Waters will continue to learn and grow as a theatre technician, but, for this production, I missed almost every bit of underscored dialogue, as well as much of the vocals sung in a lower register (hugely problematic in a show about a famous contralto).

Music Director Marci Shegogue has assembled an excellent music team for the production and Walter “Bobby” McCoy did a great job subbing in as conductor and keys the night I attended. McCoy and the rest of the band – Jimi Cupino (Guitar), Buddy Griffin (Pedal Steel), Justin Thomas (Drums), Andrew Nixon (Fiddle), and Ben Rikhoff (Bass) – were largely enjoyable throughout.

Christine Mosere as Louise Seger and Shelly Lynn Walsh as Patsy Cline. Credit: Buddy Griffin

Always…Patsy Cline is a 2-woman show and is distinctly challenging in that both of the “characters” were real people – one of whom had one of the most recognizable voices in music history. It takes time for an actor to find a character and even more time to embody a real, recognizable person. It takes time to build relationships between actors and enable them to portray an immediate connection and enduring friendship on stage. It takes time to know a story well enough to break the fourth wall and tell it directly to an audience as if it’s your own. The Free Range Human’s model of an almost impossibly short rehearsal period may have worked against them this time around.

As Louise Seger, Christine Mosere becomes the narrator of the story when she should be the storyteller – a subtle distinction, but an important one. Nearly the entire plot, as it were, of the play consists of Mosere telling the audience perhaps the biggest story of Louise’s life: the night she met and befriended Patsy Cline. This is a story that Louise probably told to anyone who would listen until the words came as easily as breathing. While Mosere is funny and larger than life as Louise, much of her storytelling feels awkward and forced and she doesn’t seem quite settled into the material. Honestly, it’s a bit difficult to critique because, if she had been doing a one-woman show or a standup routine, I probably would have loved her. But in the context of this show, her performance made it difficult for me to believe the story and, therefore, believe the connection between the two women.

Shelly Lynn Walsh as Patsy Cline. Credit: Buddy Griffin

Shelly Lynn Walsh was vocally on point as Patsy Cline. Despite false starts on a couple of numbers, Walsh captured Cline’s unique voice and style to a tee and powered through a remarkable 27 songs. I appreciate that she embodied Cline’s vocal stylings without coming off as an impersonator – although I equally appreciate the attention to detail on the more well-known songs, especially Crazy. For all the crowd-pleasing numbers in the show, I have to say that my absolute favorite was If I Could See the World (Through the Eyes of a Child), offered as a prayer from a homesick Cline. I don’t tend to like when jukebox musicals shoehorn songs into the plot, but I actually preferred Walsh’s performance during those moments over the numbers where Patsy was performing on stage, television, or radio, as Walsh seemed more invested in those scenes. For as fantastic as Walsh’s musical performance was, the storytelling was lacking for her, as well, particularly in relation to Mosere’s Louise. I simply did not believe the connection and friendship between the two, which is the heart of the entire show.

Taken individually, the performances in Free Range Human’s production of Always…Patsy Cline are each enjoyable in their own right. Christine Mosere is sassy and funny as Louise Seger. Shelly Lynn Walsh is a musical knockout as Patsy Cline. This is, overall, a decent production – it’s just not a complete one and it’s not the level I expected from this team. I am hopeful that the actors will settle in and find a connection as the run continues, and that the production team will work out the few snags they had. Free Range Humans is definitely a company to keep your eye on and I truly can’t wait to see what they do next.

Always… Patsy Cline (a Free Range Humans production) will play through September 2 at Sky Stage, 59 S. Carrol Street, Frederick, MD. Tickets may be purchased at the door or online.
Additional performances will be held September 13-16 at the BlackRock Center for the Arts, 12901 Town Commons Drive, Germantown, MD. tickets may be purchased at the door or online.

Review: 9 to 5 the Musical at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission.

Ensemble Members of 9 to 5. Credit: Alison Harbaugh

Every morning I get up for work, I can’t help but think of the ever-popular tune that states, “I tumble of out of bed and stumble to the kitchen, pour myself a cup of ambition and yawn and stretch and try to come to life.” Ain’t it the truth?! This reviewing thing is just a part time gig, a passion, but a part time gig, and just like many others out there, I’m still working 9 to 5! Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s latest offering, 9 to 5 the Musical, with Music and Lyrics by Dolly Parton and Book by Patricia Resnick, based on the 1980 film, gives us a glimpse into the life of an female office workers who faced some of the same struggles women in the workforce face today. Though the message is dead serious, this production is a fun and delightful take on what it’s like to be a strong, independent woman in a male dominated world. This production is Directed and Choreographed by Tommy Malek, with Music Direction by Rachel Sandler and Assistant Music Director Chris Pinder.

In a nutshell, 9 to 5 the Musical is based on the 1980 film of the same name, and features music and lyrics by Dolly Parton and  Book by Patricia Resnick. The musical centers on the the working lives of three women, Violet, the Senior Supervisor, Judy, the new girl, and Doralee. the sexy and sassy, but kind secretary to the big boss. They all work at Consolidated Industries, which is presided over by the sexist, lecherous, and pompous, Franklin Hart. By cause of a misunderstanding and innocent mistake, these three women hilariously take matters into their own hands and chart a course to better themselves and better the conditions for their co-workers.

Set Design by Tommy Malek and George Lawson is simple and practical but the bright colors and levels keep the action flowing and interesting. It’s a great space for this piece and Malek and Lawson use their space wisely, with moving set pieces and levels to present different locales. Kudos on well though-out design.

Costume Design by Tommy Malek (who seems to be wearing most of the hats on the creative side of this production), is on-point. Set in the first year of the 80s decade, there are heavy remnants of the 70s style still alive and well. Not only is the ensemble dressed with accurate attire for the time, they are dressed in business attire of the time, which adds value to this production. The wigs are spot on and everyone looks like they stepped out of a late 70s-early 80s JC Penny ad… which is absolutely appropriate for this piece.

As I said before, with Music & Lyrics by Dolly Parton, you can’t go wrong, but… I’m a huge fan, so I might be a little biased on that point. However, Music Direction by Rachel Sandler with Assistant Music Director Chris Pinder is as close to perfection as one can get for a production. All of the songs came across clear and well-rehearsed and the ensemble had their cues and harmonies down pat. It’s also worth mentioning the pit orchestra was aaahhh-mazing! At points, I thought I was listening to a polished recording and this orchestra didn’t falter once. The orchestra included: Ken Kimble (Piano/Conductor), Trent Goldsmith (Keyboard), James Rodak, Joe Calianno, Justin Kaley (Reeds), Randy Neilson and Tony Settineri (Trombone), Allyson Wesley (Trumpet and Flugelhorn), Diego Retana (Guitar), Reid Bowman (Bass), and Larry Berry and Andrew Bilbrey (Drums). Kudos to Sandler, Pinder, and the Pit Orchestra for a job very well done.

(l-r) Ande Kolp as Violet, Sydney Phipps as Doralee, and Lindsay Litka as Judy. Credit: Alison Harbaugh

Tommy Malek, among many other duties, takes the helm of this piece and I’ve got to start off with saying his casting can’t be better. He has assembled a strong, versatile cast that work well together and off of each other. The pacing of this piece is fantastic and the energy keeps up throughout the entire production. Malek seems to have a good comprehension of these characters and this story and presents it in a polished piece with a clear vision.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention that the entire ensemble puts 100% effort into this production, if not more. The dances are tight and the harmonies are clear making this a standout ensemble and each and every person involved should be proud of his or her work.

Steve Castrodad as Mr. Hart. Credit: Alison Harbaugh

In a strong female heavy cast, Steve Castrodad takes on the villainous role of Mr. Hart, the cold, hard boss and big man in the office. Rawls seems to have a good grasp of the character who is, and I quote, “an sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot,” but his execution of the character wasn’t as strong as his fellow cast mates. It’s clear that Castrodad gets what this character was about, but he seems to be trying too hard to get there. Vocally, he pulls the numbers off well enough and acts his way through them beautifully and humorously such as  in his featured number, “Here For You.” Though there are a few minor bumps in his performance, Castrodad still has a strong showing giving full effort and really gets you to hate his character and his sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical, bigot ways. Getting an audience to hate or love your character is a feat in itself and he pulls it off nicely.

Ande Kolp as Violet and Zac Brightbill as Joe. Credit: Alison Harbaugh

Zac Brightbill takes on the role of Joe, a junior accountant and office mate that apparently has feelings for Violet and wants to see where the relationship goes. Brightbill embodies this character and his natural delivery and chemistry with his cast mates makes for a strong performance. His vocal work in his featured number, the poignant “Let Love Grow” is solid and his ensemble work is energized and on point making for a praiseworthy performance all around.

Roz Keith, Mr. Hart’s right-hand-man and nuisance to everyone else in the office, is played with gusto by Traci Denhardt. Denhardt has a good grasp on this character and takes this role and makes it her own with flawless comedic timing and an energized, wailing (in a great way) rendition of her featured number, “Heart to Hart.”

(l-r) Lindsay Litka as Judy, Ande Kolp as Violet, and Sydney Phipps as Doralee. Credit: Alison Harbaugh

The absolute standouts in this production are, hands down, Ande Kolp as Violet Newstead, Syndey Phipps as Doralee Rhodes, and Lindsey Litka as Judy Bernly. These three actresses are to be commended and applauded for their work in this production. Vocally, all three are powerhouses and, if Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre had a roof, they would blow it off! Their chemistry is second to none and vocally, they complement each other perfectly adding great value to their group numbers such as the upbeat, inspirational “Shine Like the Sun.” I’m familiar with the film and went in with some reservations, being a huge fan, but these three actresses, alone, made this production worth it and put my reservations to rest.

Kolp plays Violet Newstead with a good balance of wit and tenderness, as the character requires. She wants to kick open the door to the boys club and show them she’s just as good, if not better and Kolp manages to bring this across in her performance in such numbers as the high energy “One of the Boys,” Though her delivery may seem a little too scripted at times, she has a strong presence on stage and gives a powerful vocal performance.

(l-r) Ande Kolp as Violet, Sydney Phipps as Doralee, and Lindsay Likta as Judy. Credit: Alison Harbaugh

Doralee Rhodes, the country gal with good old fashioned values, but knows how to take care of herself, is played superbly by Phipps. Though her southern accent comes and goes, the character is spot on and, vocally, this woman knocks it out of the park. Disclaimer… I’m a HUGE Dolly Parton fan. I was definitely watching Phipps through squinted, suspicious eyes when she first entered but… she won me over in the first couple of lines because I knew she understood this character entirely. Vocally, Phipps knocks it out of the ballpark, especially with her renditions of “Backwoods Barbie” and her parts in group numbers. She’s a standout that you want to keep any eye on.

Lindsay Litka as Judy Bernly. Credit: Alison Harbaugh

This brings us to Lindsay Litka taking on the role of the timid, mousey Judy Bernly, who is the new girl in the office after a heartbreaking divorce. Litka pulls off this character superbly with just the right blend of timidness and strength that the character requires. She has a natural delivery and strong presence that makes for a robust performance. Litka, too, is a vocal dynamo with a strong voice that rings throughout the theatre and brings down the house in her featured number, “Get Out and Stay Out.” Litka makes one stand up and take notice and should not be missed in this role.

Final thought… 9 to 5 the Musical is a fun, energized adaptation of a classic film about the worth of women in the workplace and it’s a strong message to young women everywhere. They couldn’t go wrong with Music and Lyrics by Dolly Parton, though Patricia Resnick’s book does seemed rushed and scattered at times. The entire ensemble is on point and gives 100% to the performance and the live pit orchestra is nothing short of spectacular. Big, bright, and full of catchy tunes, this is what I call a modern-old-fashioned musical comedy with the perfect blend of song, dance, and book with an important message. This is not a production you want to miss this summer. Get your tickets now!

This is what I thought of this production of 9 to 5 the Musical.… what do you think?

9 to 5 the Musical will play through September 22 at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, 143 Compromise Street, Annapolis, MD 21401. For tickets, call the box office at 410-268-9212 or purchase them online.

CORRECTION: The actor playing the role of Mr. Hart was mistakenly listed as Leigh K. Rawls, who plays Mrs. Hart. Steve Castrodad is the actor playing Mr. Hart and the article has been corrected.