Review: ‘Always…Patsy Cline’ at Walnut Street Theatre – Independence Studio on 3 in Philadelphia

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As one of the most iconic country singers of all time, Patsy Cline was taken away from us too quickly. At age 30, she left us with classics as “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “Stupid Cupid,” “Crazy,” and “I Fall To Pieces.” Lucky for us, we can get our own Patsy Cline concert at The Walnut, featuring 25 more songs that are bound to delight any audience member.

Jenny Lee Stern as Patsy Cline. Photo by Mark Garvin.
Jenny Lee Stern as Patsy Cline. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Director Debi Macucci has assembled a perfect ensemble to portray a bar in Dallas, Texas, featuring essentially a full concert by the inimitable Patsy Cline (Jenny Lee Stern). Based on a true story of the country musician’s life, Always…Patsy Cline tells the story of Louise (Denise Whelan), a brassy Texas mother, finding Patsy’s music, meeting Patsy, and befriending her in unlikely ways.

Stern blew the audience and me away as if Patsy Cline was in the room herself. Her recreation of Patsy’s voice and vocal pyrotechnics were not only incredible, but personal and emotional.

Denise Whalen as Louise. Photo by Mark Garvin.
Denise Whalen as Louise. Photo by Mark Garvin.

While Whelan also sings beautifully, it is her charming narration that I found endearing. As Whelan sets the scene, her fangirling is adorable and makes you love Patsy as much as she does. Not to mention the audience participation is a blast, so sit in those cabaret tables if you want to be up in the action!

The Music and Vocal Direction by Billy Thompson is incredible. Not only are the vocal pyrotechnics of the two women impressive, Thompson oversees the two-man back-up vocals and house band consisting of Billy Joe Jim Bob (Billy Thompson) on piano and Bob Jay Ray Bob (Spiff Weigand) on pretty much everything else. Weigand’s ability to play up to seven instruments at once is mind-blowing, and all the musicians work cohesively.

The scenic design by Glen Sears features two separate worlds: the honky-tonk onstage world of Patsy Cline, filled with music, light, and microphones; and Louise’s house feels just like home. The accoutrements are impeccable: from the matching macaroni and cheese appliances and homey set dressing.

Troy A Martin-O’Shia’s lighting design keeps these worlds separate while isolating Louise during the narration elements of the play. The projections upstage center and the back panels change throughout throughout, helping to establish location as well as parts of the story within or outside of the narrative.

Sound Designer John Kolbinski marries the world of live music and effects, as the sound cues and live microphone effects work in tandem to take the audience back to the 1960s.

The costumes by Mark Mariani are the most ostentatious period part of the show, with Patsy’s incredible outfits (mostly the cowgirl ones), Louise’s 1960’s mom pants, and the band’s Texas style. Seeing his costumes made me wish we still dressed like that. Always…Patsy Cline is a night of music, humor, and heart.

Denise Whelan and Jenny Lee Stern. Photo by Mark Garvin.
Denise Whelan and Jenny Lee Stern. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Whether you are a fan of Patsy Cline and her music, or if you have never before heard her amazing voice, you must make time to see the incredible performances at the very entertaining Always…Patsy Cline at Walnut Street Theatre.

Running Time: Two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

https://youtu.be/K-wJNpWgss8

Always…Patsy Cline plays through July 3, 2016 at the Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio on 3 – 825 Walnut Street, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office at at (215) 574-3550, or purchase them online.