Your cheatin’ heart will need to be true even if it’s just for one evening; you’ll need to put on your best cowboy boots and hop in your ‘sexy dude’ so that you can tool on down to Infinity Theatre Company’s production of Always…Patsy Cline. Directed by Chan Harris with Musical Direction by Tim Rosser, a night of ‘pure Honky Tonk Heaven’ awaits you as the story of an unlikely friendship between a simple country music lovin’ mom and the infamous Patsy Cline unfolds right before your eyes. With all the familiar classics of Miss Cline’s hey-day, this toe-tappin’ boot-scootin’ good time is the perfect shindig to kick off your summer.
Costume Designer Kurt Alger puts everybody in the mood with the authentically country go-go outfits in which Patsy first makes her debut. The costumes only get classier from there, as far as the country star is concerned, upgrading to polished suits, and shiny boots, right up to a stunning evening gown for her ‘second set’ in the nightclub. What Alger does for Cline’s wardrobe in class he manages to do for Louise’s outfits with a comic and tacky approach. With cowboy leopard print pants that fit like a glove and some garish tops, Alger keeps Louise looking every bit the big country fan on a low-key budget. Even her worn out fuzzy house slippers fit the bill.
Scenic Designer Anshuman Bhatia crafts the perfect quaint little home for Louise while layering the stage in such a way that it can double as the nightclub and the front of the Grand Ole Opry. Using tiered spaces, Bhatia separates the kitchen and living room as well as a few spaces downstage, making multiple areas for events to occur without depending on heavy scene changes that would slow down the natural pacing of the show. Bhatia’s attention to set decoration shows a refined knowledge of the era as well as the style of a southern household in 1961. The beauty and simplicity of the well furnished set allows the two performers to have total access to the audience at any time they wish while still maintaining aspects of the elusive fourth wall.
Serving as the on-stage pianist and conductor, Musical Director Tim Rosser brings with him a lively band that hits pitch perfect notes and keeps an impeccable pace with Patsy Cline for all of her numbers. Sounding every bit the peachy country band, with Lauren Wright on fiddle, the music is the epitome of what one would except for such good-natured twangy heartfelt songs. Wright’s solo fiddling can be heard best during “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” a number where her playing shines almost as brightly as Patsy’s singing.
For being a two person show the deep friendship that these actors concoct is amazing. Both Jenny Lee Stern, as the title character, and Robin Baxter, as the corny quirky country best friend, Louise, embody rich multi-dimensional characters and really involve themselves not only with each other but with the audience in a way that’s sure to tickle your fancy. Their banter and fun-loving relationship will put a smile on your face; a heartfelt and touching performance given by the duo that makes this musical even more loveable.
Robin Baxter is indeed quite the character. Between interacting with the on-stage band and treating them like her own personal peanut gallery, and her hootin’ and hollerin’ with the audience she’s a prime candidate for show-stealer. Playing a boisterous woman with a loud and proud attitude makes her that much more entertaining, and when she gets to bumping around on the stage, especially when she hops in her “sexy dude” to “tool on over” to wherever she’s going, the laughs start pouring like a fresh mug of cold brew. The character’s simplistic and easily excitable nature is exacerbated to hilarious heights with Baxter’s accent and overall physicality; a true comic gem. During her moments of star-struck awe the audience can feel the amazing sensation that washes over her whole body, and she translates just what it’s like to be in the presence of someone you really admire.
Baxter and Stern only share a musical duet here and there, but when they do its perfection incarnate. “Come On In (And Sit Right Down)” involves Baxter adding some physical shtick to Stern’s melodious voice, but together the pair are a knockout. When Baxter takes to playing spoons, bottles, pots and pans, it only adds to the down-home country feel of the music; together the pair are brilliant together.
Embodying Patsy Cline in voice mind and soul, Jenny Lee Stern is the epitome of the country star. Despite being a little on the thin side, the actress does a sensational job of capturing the star’s personality as well as her unique vocal sound, delving way down deep into that lower tenor register with sublime perfection. She immediately wins the audience over with the sweet little ditty “Honky Tonk Merry Go Round.” And from there it’s an uphill sweep of singing success. Stern is having a grand ol’ time and it shows from her beautiful smile right down to her hot-steppin’ boots.
Her sound is honest and true to country music, almost as if she were channeling Patsy herself. Stern has an impressive range, not only is she able to clearly sustain the lower notes in perfect pitch but her upper range is divine. She’s as sweet and charming as granny’s apple pie and will keep you clapping along in the audience for songs like “Gotta Lotta Rhythm” and “Shake, Rattle and Roll.” The iconic songs like “Your Cheating Heart” and “Walkin’ After Midnight” are phenomenal; a truer homage to the great music and great singer you will not find. The emotion that Stern lets radiate in songs like “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and “San Antonio Rose” is brilliant and moving; she really understands the reality of country music.
So if you’ve got leaving on your mind, or perhaps have a case of the lovesick blues, then you best be getting’ on down to Infinity Theatre Company before Patsy and Louise hit the road for good.
Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission.
Always…Patsy Cline plays through June 30, 2013 at The Children’s Theatre of Annapolis Complex – 1661 Bay Head Road, in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (877) 501-8499, or purchase them online.