note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
Seeing any play about Patsy Cline featuring her biggest hits is always a treat. In her brief career, Virginia Patterson Hensley, the “little girl from Winchester, Va.,” who wore homemade cowgirl costumes on the Arthur Godfrey Talent Show in 1951, captured the nation’s attention and hearts.
Patsy Cline’s fabulous voice sent her records to the top of the charts, the apex of the hit parade, as her career skyrocketed. Her fateful plane crash on March 5, 1963 ended all that at age 30, when she perished with Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Randy Hughes outside of Nashville, Tenn.
On opening night last Thursday at Ogunquit Playhouse (10 Main St., Route 1N, Ogunquit, Maine), playwright Ted Swindley, author of popular tribute play, “Always. Patsy Cline,” nodded approvingly to the packed audience during his introduction.
The play premiered in 1990, but is celebrating its 10th anniversary at Ogunquit. It appeared there in 2002 with the indomitable Sally Struthers, who’s currently reviving her role as Patsy’s overly gushy, hero-worshipping fan-turned-penpal-friend, Louise Seger, of Houston, Texas.
Struthers gushes, giggles, hollers, struts and shimmies, leads the band and the audience, constantly making eye contact. She flirts with and grabs a theatergoer to dance with her. Last week, audience member Jim surprised Struthers as he skillfully swung her and strolled across the stage with her.
Other times, during her saucy narration, Struthers strides and saunters, pretending to drive Seger’s pink and black Pontiac, which she refers to as the “sexy dude”. Struthers arouses nostalgia and is a “cheerleader,” pumping up the audience, to sing and clap along.
In this two-woman show directed by David Galligan, Broadway star Carter Calvert revives her role as Patsy, which she successfully performed in Cincinnati.
Struthers outdoes herself, performing a few rip-roaring duets with Calvert, but at times her antics upstage Calvert’s fabulous voice during renditions of Cline’s biggest hits. Calvert unleashes her full range, from sad and bluesy, reverential, to swinging country and rock ‘n’ roll, earning diehard Patsy Cline fans’ appreciative applause during all numbers, including “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces,” and “Walkin’ After Midnight,” and nostalgic numbers, such as “You Belong to Me,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” Bill Haley’s signature rock ‘n‘ roll mover and shaker, “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” ballad “True Love,” and rollicking encore tune “Bill Bailey”. Calvert’s voice is sweetly soothing in lullaby, “If I Could See the World (Through the Eyes of a Child)”.
Regardless of whether Struthers is portraying villainous Miss Hannigan in “Annie,” Mother Superior in “The Sound of Music,” the celebrated “Dolly,” or exuberant Louise Seger, she’s magnetic.
Richard Latta’s handsome lighting and Jeremy Oleksa’s impressive sound design are ideal with Campbell Baird’s compact set. A small corner is reserved for Seger’s kitchen, while the other stage corner with its table and jukebox is an extension of the Houston dance hall-turned-Grand Old Opry.
Award-winning conductor Ken Clifton (on keyboard), leads his easy-going, great-sounding, six-piece band, known here as the Bodacious Bobcats. Located on both sides of the stage, the group looks spiffy, wearing black cowboy garb and hats.
Besides tracing Cline and Seger’s friendship and letters, this touching tribute also recalls the days when chugged down bottles of Schlitz beer; Dick Clark was king of teenage TV; people danced to spotlit, spinning stardust balls overhead; and women wore dainty tea aprons and swirly dresses. Those days are gone, but Cline’s legacy lives on.
On May 31, the theater is teaming up with Rotary International’s Fight Against Polio by donating part of that night’s ticket sales to York Rotary Club.
BOX INFO: Two-act musical play, written by Ted Swindley, appearing through June 16 at Ogunquit Playhouse, 10 Main St., (Route 1N), Ogunquit, Maine. Tickets: $39-$74. For more information or reservations, visit www.ogunquitplayhouse.org or call the Box Office at 207-646-5511.