Review: Always . . . Patsy Cline

Bob Paxman reviews “Always . . . Patsy Cline”

How can a play with one unchanging set and only two major characters possibly be compelling? It’s easy—when the production is Always . . . Patsy Cline and the performers Mandy Barnett and Tere Myers.

The two star in the true-life tale of the friendship that developed between the country superstar and her devoted fan, Louise Seeger. The majority of the show richly details “a night in the life” in 1961 when the two met, downed a beer or two and swapped stories before Patsy’s show at a Houston nightspot. Patsy ended up spending the night at Louise’s home, where the sibling-like bonding continued. Patsy and Louise became friends and, though they never saw each other again, corresponded over the years until Patsy’s tragic death in a 1963 airplane crash.

For certain, this is a musical play with the emphasis on music. More than 25 songs are featured, including Patsy’s classics like “She’s Got You,” “Crazy,” “Sweet Dreams” and the tune that catapulted her to fame, “Walkin’ After Midnight.”

Mandy Barnett delivers them all with Patsy’s aching, robust feel, and there are times you feel that you’re listening to Patsy herself. Her voice is absolutely amazing. But the performance goes beyond mere impersonation—it’s practically an inhabitation. Mandy gets down the little nuances—the left hand keeping time, the head cock and certainly the tough-talking swagger that attracted her to both male and female audiences. Yet, you also get a glimpse of Patsy’s vulnerable, softer side as she describes her lonely existence on the road and sings to one of Louise’s children.

“Nuanced” is not quite the operative word for Myers’ performance, but that’s not the requirement. The real-life Seeger is evidently about as subtle as a heavy metal concert and that’s how Myers plays it—over-the-top, loud and boisterous, with a few mildly suggestive antics thrown in. Louise serves as the narrator of the piece, and she’s essential to the story’s unfolding. Myers’ emotion-tinged reading of an actual letter that Patsy wrote to Louise is easily one of the show’s high points.

You don’t often find evenings that offer pure entertainment, so it’s recommended that you rush to Always . . . Patsy Cline before it ends, May 23. Performances are Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday afternoons at 2 p.m. All shows take place at the historic Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville.

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