Friday Night: Always, Patsy Cline at ACT

Since I was a little girl, I've adored Patsy Cline. Her soulful country ballads-- not to mention those sung by the likes of Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Emmylou Harris and so many of her contemporaries-- stirred my little heart so much as to spark a lifelong love of twang, pedal steel, gold cowboy boots and outrageously big hair. And though I have given my mom a shitload of grief over the years for forcing schlock like Yanni and Muzak-like smooth jazz into my protesting eardrums, she does get the credit for introducing me to country music, and Patsy Cline in particular. Therefore, it seemed logical for me to take my mom and Ed, my stepdad, to see Always, Patsy Cline, a musical written by Ted Swindley, with me.

Not counting the live band, there are exactly two characters in this play: Miz Patsy Cline herself and Louise Seger, at whose home Patsy Cline slept after they struck up a friendship before one of Patsy's shows in a Texas honky tonk. They corresponded by mail for the next two years, right up until Patsy was killed in that plane crash in 1963. The show took place in the Bullitt Theater, where chairs and tables were dispersed throughout the room; I later realized this was because the play made full use of the two-story space, which showed some real ingenuity, considering how tiny the actual stage was. You couldn't hardly fit the full band-- who did a bang-up job-- on that weensy thing.

Actress Kate Jaeger stole the show as Louise, a divorcee with two small children, a no-nonsense attitude and a fondness for obsession with Patsy Cline's music. I won't spoil the funnies for you, but I tell you what: she had great comedic timing. Now, Cayman Ilika, who played Patsy, has a lovely singing voice, and she's a decent actress. But she did not sound like Patsy Cline. She sounded like a classically-trained jazz singer covering Patsy Cline, but she did not sound like Patsy Cline. And it bugged me. The main issue was the Southern drawl, or lack thereof. When she spoke, she pulled off a fabulous Southern accent, but it disappeared when she started singing, which lent an unfortunate lounge vibe to Patsy Cline's hits.

When I whispered this sentiment to my mother, I expected her to hush me and tell me I was being too critical. That's usually what happens whenever I express negative feelings to my mother about any subject whatsoever. My mom, after all, grew up in a cultural environment similar to Patsy's, in which ladies were taught not to say anything if they're planning on saying something nice, or at least inoffensive. But to my surprise, she agreed with me. Then, during intermission, my boyfriend jumped down my throat about how I was just being a pill because I happen to be somewhat indifferent to most contemporary jazz. In my defense, I happen to love Billie, Ella, Thelonious and Miles, and I especially enjoy big band jazz and jazz bands that incorporates blues and funk styles; however, too much exposure to bad smooth jazz as a child may have permanently stymied my interest in most contemporary purveyors of the genre.

I explained myself thusly: while I am perfectly capable of appreciating jazz, thankyouverymuch, the bottom line is that Patsy Cline was not a jazz vocalist. She was a country singer. East is east, west is west and never the twain shall meet. Feel me? And while I can't deny that Cayman Ilika sang the songs beautifully, I went in there hoping to be convinced, if only for a minute, that the year was 1958, I was sitting in the Grand Ole Opry in my Sunday dress, watching Patsy Cline herself sing the Southern blues the way that only she can. That never happened, which I can chalk up to inflated expectations and not enough booze (I only had two glasses, along with a cocktail earlier in the day, and my mom still thinks I'm a raging drunk. You just can't win sometimes.) After all, that's why people are still writing plays about Patsy Cline-- because she's a legend. And it's tough to live up to a legend. Or your mom's expectations. But hey-- you can try. And at the end of the day, it was a hell of an entertaining try.

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