"Told through the heartfelt and hilarious memories of Louise, alternating between homespun tales in a quaint kitchen and a glitzy stage"
Conceived and Originally Directed by Ted Swindley, GEM Theater and One More Productions presents “Always....Patsy Cline,” based on the true story of the unexpected but endearing friendship between 1950s country artist Patsy Cline (Nicole Cassesso) and Houston housewife Louise Seger (Dee Shandera).
Singer Patsy Cline was born Virginia Patterson Hensley on September 8, 1932. She was best known for her rich vocal sound and plaintive emotional interpretations.
Her voice allowed her to cross over successfully from country to pop music during the early 1960s era of The Nashville Sound. Cline was known as a trailblazer in country music, forging the way for the many women who followed in her footsteps.
Having first heard Cline on the "Arthur Godfrey Show" in 1957, Seger became an immediate and avid fan of Patsy Cline and constantly hounded the local disc jockey with requests to play Cline's records. Recently divorced, but not letting life drag her down, Louise went to Houston in 1961 for a Patsy Cline show, arriving about an hour-and-a-half early and, by coincidence, met Patsy who was travelling alone. The two women struck up a conversation that culminated in Cline spending the night at Seger's house — blossoming a friendship that would last until that fateful night two years later when she died at the height of her career in a 1963 plane crash at the age of 30.
The setting for the story ranges from The Grand Ole Opry, The Arthur Godfrey Show, The Esquire Ballroom, a Houston radio station, and back to Louise's own kitchen table. The musical, complete with down home country humor, true emotion and even some audience participation, focuses on the fateful evening at Houston's Esquire Ballroom when Seger hears of Cline's death in a plane crash.
Ms. Shandera is infectious, funny, passionate and warm. Being able to experience Louise's joy as she goes from being star-struck to becoming Patsy's pen-pal confidant is one of the highlights of this musical, as she reminisces on their friendship and her love for the singer.
But, as enjoyable it is to watch these two women bond, it is really the song numbers in the show that allows “Always...Patsy Cline” to soar. Seger supplies a narrative while Cline floats in and out of the set singing classic tunes that made her famous such as "Crazy," "Walkin' After Midnight," and "Your Cheatin' Heart" sung to the rafters. Other song favorites include "Stupid Cupid," "Sweet Dreams," “Bill Bailey,” “I Fall to Pieces," "She's Got You" and ”Back in Baby’s Arms” — 27 songs in all.
The onstage six piece ‘honky-tonk’ band, aptly called “The Bodacious Bobcats,” features Richard Abraham on piano, Mike Khalil on steel guitar, Jacob Gonzalez on guitar, James Beall on bass, Rebecca Lynn on fiddle, and Jeff Segal on drums.
Millions of Patsy Cline albums have been sold over the past 45 years, and she has received numerous awards posthumously. In 1973 she became the first female solo artist inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 1999 she was voted #11 on the list of "The 100 Greatest Women of Rock and Roll of All Time" by VH1. In 2002, she was voted by the artists and members of CMT (Country Music Television) as #1 on the list of "The 40 Greatest Women of Country Music." She is considered one of the most acclaimed female vocalists of the 20th century, and the story of her life has been the subject of numerous books, movies, documentaries, articles and stage plays, including Swindley's “Always ... Patsy Cline.”
The show, enhanced by vividly sparkling costumes by designer Luis Cornejeo, is directed and musically directed by co-founder Damien Lorton, and effectively combines humor, sadness and reality in a devoted and impassioned narrative. As Patsy, Ms. Cassesso is as captivating as she is confident. Her regal presence clad in those elegant costumes and accessories turns it into a crowning tribute. Her rich, sultry voice as the comfort food you would normally say no to, makes it so hard to refuse.
First produced in 1988, Swindley’s “Always…Patsy Cline” has enjoyed great success all over the United States, including a successful run off-Broadway in 1997. It has since been one of the most popular musicals in America, according to American Theatre Magazine, as well as in Canada, the UK and Australia.
But key to the success of any production of “Always ... Patsy Cline” is someone who can actually sing like Patsy Cline, and it’s no easy task to duplicate her iconic sound and style. In this case, the staunchest of purists would be at peace with the performance of Nicole Cassesso as Patsy. She clearly has a masterfully gifted instrument which she has shaped to match her sound to near perfection, projecting that same gorgeous voice, not to mention that "good ol' gal" energy, personality and presence of the legend herself. Her flawless delivery leaves one with closed eyes unable to distinguish between her and Cline.
And Dee Shandera is a hoot as Louise, with a bigger than life personality and hair to match, as well as the needed comedic handling that propels the story forward. What a thoroughly enjoyable show!
Always ... Patsy Cline will appear at the GEM Theater April 24th through May 16. This show is being produced in accordance with CDC, OC Health Dept., and City of Garden Grove COVID-19 guidelines. For tickets, performance times and more information about the theatre and its programs, you may contact them at www.onemoreproductions.com/
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
Photo Credits: Lisa Scarsi