Fort Worth — If you want to have a few laughs, cry in your beer a bit, or just hear some first class country singing, Always…Patsy Cline delivers. The plot, based on the true story of the friendship between Cline and one of her most devoted fans, is fairly cursory. But with two excellent performances and a swingin’ live band, you probably won’t quibble. The production at Casa Mañana features Patsy Cline’s greatest hits like “Crazy” and “After Midnight,” as well as numerous other popular country and gospel songs the legendary singer covered in her all too brief career.
Gail Bliss (Patsy Cline) seems to virtually channel the singer. She’s got the stance, the gestures and most importantly the iconic voice. Throaty and soulful with that trademark catch, Bliss truly captures Cline’s essence in her singing. Bliss has toured extensively in the starring role of both this show and A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline, so it’s no surprise that she’s got the country star’s persona, but she still retains a lovely freshness and spontaneity.
As super-fan Louise Seger, Jeri Sager doesn’t get to do much singing, which is a shame as she is also a talented and versatile vocalist; appearing on Broadway as Grizabella in Cats and other hit musicals. Sager does create a warm and funny character, whether she’s hectoring the local DJ to play Patsy’s music or bossing the band around during musical numbers. Despite the mega-watt persona, Sager is careful to keep the focus on the starring role, expertly walking the line between broad comedy and the more tender moments in the story. She also interacts easily with the audience, coaxing a gentleman out of his seat for an impromptu swing dance. The whole evening is a lot of fun; even the moments that put a lump in your throat.
Director Casey Hushion has paced the show well; it moves briskly from song to song, without sacrificing moments where the women share coffee or a cold one, as they commiserate about the bumpier moments in their lives. Musical director James Cunningham has chosen well and the band definitely has the chops for the music. Having the six musicians on stage adds to the aura of being at a Patsy Cline performance, while nicely realized period costumes and wigs by Tammy Spencer add additional authenticity.
Casa Mañana produced Always…Patsy Cline several years ago, starring local favorite Julie Johnson; its appealing nature makes it easy to see why they’ve brought this one back; particularly with Bliss in the titular role. The performance is amusing and touching by turns, but it’s always engaging entertainment.