Review: ‘Always Patsy Cline’ at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts

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Riverside Center for the Performing Arts and Producing Artistic Director Patrick A’Hearn present Always Patsy Cline. Created by Ted Swindley, the show is inspired by the true story of an unlikely friendship between Cline and a Houston-based fan named Louise Seger, and gets its title from the sign-off of the letters between Patsy and Louise, from which the material is based. Carter Calvert and Sally Struthers make a perfect duo as Patsy and Louise, their dynamic onstage chemistry having ripened over a span of seven years (and counting!) touring together in these roles.

Sally Struthers and Carter Calvert in Always Patsy Cline. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

Much of the stage is taken up by a live six-piece band, conducted by Music Director Walter “Bobby” McCoy. Riverside has consistently accompanied their shows with top-quality live music since it was introduced a couple of years ago, and this performance was no exception. The band is an integral part of the production and their presence is anything but ignored, including one memorable scene where the put-upon percussionist is repeatedly chastised by Louise, who points with a sharp finger and barks, “don’t you rush her!” Technical Director Jennifer Taglieri ensures that lighting and sound cues, designed by Michael Jarett and Bethany Galyen, respectively, are seamless and professional.

We begin with a greeting from Louise, who welcomes the audience into her kitchen (a very cool retro-styled set, dressed by Brittany Walters). Struthers is enthralling from the get-go as Louise; friendly and warm, she addresses audience members directly throughout the show, from wishing “God Bless You” after someone sneezes in the distance, to playfully teasing a couple who walked in a few minutes late. Audience participation is a big element of this show, so much so that she pulls someone onstage to dance with her during a number. Louise is thrilled to share her experience with the audience–she knows we’re here, and she’s glad to have us!

Carter Calvert in Always Patsy Cline. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

An animated Louise regales us with her story of befriending her favorite singer, Patsy Cline, whom she adored since her early days singing at the Grand Ole Opry.

Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park provides costumes for this production, and uses them to cleverly show Patsy’s career progression. Patsy first graces the stage in a loud, fringed cowboy dress that was made by her mother, and her outfits become more sophisticated as the show goes on.

When she finally meets Louise, Patsy is an intimidating figure, standing alone in a shimmery Couture cocktail dress while surveying her performing venue, to which an overexcited Louise had arrived hours early for her show.

While the two women seem wholly different (Patsy is as graceful and refined as Louise is bawdy and brash), they have an immediate and palpable connection. The two get on so well that Patsy herself ends up in Louise’s kitchen by the night’s end, and the rest is history.

The main allure of this production is the set list; 27 of Patsy’s best songs are performed throughout the show, and Carter Calvert’s stunning vocals alone are worth the ticket price. The classics are there of course, with “Walkin’ After Midnight” and “Crazy,” being the biggest crowd pleasers.

I particularly enjoyed the lively, flirtatious “Stupid Cupid,” and Calvert and Struthers perform a memorable duet with “Shake, Rattle, and Roll,” using Louise’s pots and pans as makeshift instruments and having more fun onstage than anyone in the audience! While the songs and performances are very beautiful, it’s the women’s friendship that is most memorable.

Riverside Center’s Always Patsy Cline is an example of musical theater at its best. When two renowned entertainers are given such high-quality material to work with, the resulting performance is one that shouldn’t be missed!

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

Always Patsy Cline plays through July 15, 2018, at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts – 95 Riverside Parkway, in Fredericksburg, VA. For tickets, call 540.370.4300, or purchase them online.