By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission
Jukebox musicals can be a tricky entity, but Dundalk Community Theatre’s current production, Always Patsy Cline, Directed by Eric Potter seamlessly stitches together old Patsy Cline songs to create a delightful piece of nostalgia. With Music Direction by Charlotte Evans, Costume design by Larry Munsey, and Set, Lighting, and Sound Design by Marc W. Smith this production is near flawless and brings the iconic Patsy Cline back to life for an evening of pure country music and a glimpse into a fan’s dream come true.
Walking into the John E. Ravekes Theatre, I was transported to a bygone era and the original Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium. Veteran Technical Director Marc W. Smith’s Set Design is exquisite and downright accurate with a painted barn and bandstand. Smith’s attention to detail is also apparent in the other two smaller settings of a Texas dance hall with tables and a jukebox and a small 1960s kitchen with an old Frigidaire and pastel colored dishes. All of his sets are authentic and well designed adding great value to this production.
Smith also takes on the duties of Lighting & Sound Design which compliments the Set Design nicely. His Lighting Design is simple, yet sets the mood for each number and is antithetic for each setting, giving a clear separation. The design is well thought-out and executed beautifully.
Being a musical, Sound Design must always be handled delicately, finding a balance between the orchestra or band and the actors who are singing. Smith’s design finds this balance for a brilliant sound throughout the production.
Costume Design by Larry Munsey is superb, matching many well-known Patsy Cline costumes and style. Putting an actress up on the stage to play a real person is difficult, but Munsey’s costume choices are impressive. He not only costumes Ms. Cline well, his design for the other character, Lois, is also well-thought out, creating a down-to-earth, friendly 1960s Texas gal who likes to have a good time. Did I mention hair? Well, the hair was very authentic for both Patsy Cline and Lois, with their bouffants and high dos. Kudos to Munsey on his authentic and fun Costume Design.
Most of the songs presented in Always Patsy Cline are well known Cline hits, including “Back in Baby’s Arms,” “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “I Fall to Pieces,” and “Crazy.” Music Director Charlotte Evans does a superb job bringing these songs back to the stage and has the band swinging with the upbeat numbers and keeping a steady beat for the ballads and even providing vocal backup where needed. It’s always difficult with a jukebox musical because, these are the songs folks are accustomed to hearing certain way and Evans does not disappoint. All of the numbers sound like the original recordings and the band, consisting of Charlotte Evans on Piano, Corey Chubb on Electric Guitar, Randy Austin, Jr. on Sleep Lap Guitar, Greg Bell on Bass, Alani Sugar on Fiddle, and Joe Pipkin on Drums produce a good old fashioned honky tonk, rock-a-billy sound.
Directing a biographical piece can be challenging but Director Eric Potter seems to have tackled this challenge to create a successful and nostalgic piece giving a little insight into Cline through stories told by a fan-turned-friend in the late 50s through the rest of Cline’s life. Potter’s vision is clear as he presents Patsy Cline as the absolute star she was. He keeps the action moving nicely, giving the story a good flow, and the transitions from one song to the next is seamless. His understanding of the script and subject matter is apparent and his production does not mock, but celebrates the life of this gone-to-soon icon.
As for the performance of this piece, Tiffany Walker Porta Burrows as Patsy Cline and Maribeth Vogel as Lois Seger are forces of nature on the stage and bring Patsy Cline back to life with gusto and respect.
Though portraying a once living, famous person can be quite difficult, Tiffany Walker Porta Burrows is a standout as Patsy Cline and really understands her character. Her voice is as impressive, smooth, and clear as the real Patsy Cline and she is comfortable and confident with each and every song. Though Cline was a country music superstar, it’s reported she was very down-to-earth, as well, and Burrows portrays this brilliantly in her scenes with Maribeth Vogel, with whom she has a great chemistry and ease. She gives a very strong performance and is believable with every step and every note she sings.
Maribeth Vogel as super-fan Lois Seger is likable from the moment she steps on stage. Vogel expresses her affection and love for Cline clearly and gives such a natural performance that makes me feel like she’s my next door neighbor telling me the story of her encounter with her idol. She is very comfortable interacting with the audience, as she does throughout the performance, and she sets the audience at ease. She has a strong presence onstage and her comedic timing is on point, making for a very successful and delightful performance.
Final thought… Patsy Cline is an undisputed icon in the entertainment industry and her legacy must be handled delicately but Dundalk Community Theatre manages to bring her back to life with grace, dignity, and a bit of humor. If you’re a Patsy Cline fan, as I am, you will not be disappointed and if you are unfamiliar with this velvet-voiced songstress, this production would be the perfect introduction.
Have a different viewpoint? What did you think? We’d love to hear from you! Feel free to comment below!
Always, Patsy Cline will play through November 6 at The Community College of Baltimore County, Dundalk Campus, John E. Ravekes Theatre. For tickets, call the box office at 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.