Free Lance-Star: 'Always ... Patsy Cline' is a heart-warmer and a hoot

By GAIL CHOOCHAN THE FREE LANCE-STAR

May 30, 2018

Meeting your favorite singer is a dream for many, but for one lucky fan that became a reality and turned into a cherished friendship.

“Always … Patsy Cline,” now onstage at the Riverside Center for the Performing Arts, shares the true story about how one divorced mother of two formed a special bond with a country music legend.

Playwright Ted Swindley weaves together more than 25 songs into this incredibly heartwarming and surprisingly funny show, starring Broadway actress Carter Calvert as the Winchester-born singer and TV icon Sally Struthers as super fan Louise Seger.

“Always … Patsy Cline” is told through the eyes of the Houston mother, whose life is rocked after this voice beams through the living room television one day during the Arthur Godfrey show. Once she hears “Walkin’ After Midnight,” Louise is sold.

There’s a good amount of time Louise spends speaking to the audience, sharing details about her life and most of all, her love for Patsy Cline (who sounds like how she wanted to sing). She’s so crazy about the singer that she relentlessly calls the local radio station every day to request her favorite songs again and again. When Louise finds out that her most favorite person ever is in town for a show, you just know that she will be there early and right up front. And the evening gets even better. After Louise strikes up a conversation with Patsy, the singer pulls her onstage to help out with the band direction.

Good thing Patsy has somebody like Louise to look after her. When she finds out that the singer is performing all night for only $350, she’s not having it and meets with the honky-tonk’s manager. Since the show ends so late, Louise even offers to drive Patsy back to her hotel, but right after a food stop at her house. Can you imagine your favorite singer coming over for bacon and eggs?

Even though these two women have just met, it’s like they’ve known each other their whole lives, as they talk about children and husband problems, and laughing over the kitchen table. If the chemistry between Calvert and Struthers feels natural, it’s because these two actresses are friends in real life, having performed this show together for the past seven years.

Calvert is sublime as the beloved country star, laying her gorgeous singing voice on Patsy’s songs, including “Back in Baby’s Arms,” “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “If I Could See the World (Through the Eyes of a Child).” The musical numbers count big names like Hank Williams Sr., Bill Monroe, Don Gibson, Cole Porter and Willie Nelson among its songwriters.

It’s especially lovely to hear Calvert deliver Patsy’s signature songs like “Faded Love,” “I Fall to Pieces” and “Crazy.” When she sang the latter tune, the theater was so still and quiet—definitely a show highlight.

Louise is the perfect role for Struthers, as it highlights her strong comedic talents. Sometimes she can be a little too extra, with the occasional dip into potty humor and overly animated antics, but Struthers certainly knows how to entertain the crowd. There’s quite a bit of interaction in this production, so having someone who can keep the audience in high spirits is key.

When Struthers noticed the heavy amount of coughing in the audience during my performance, she remarks, “Sounds like consumption out there.” This just had me in stitches.

The six-piece onstage band assembled for this production is top-notch and led by the newly minted Helen Hayes award winner Walter “Bobby” McCoy, who won for Outstanding Musical Direction for Gala Hispanic Theatre’s “In the Heights.” Calvert’s husband, Roger Cohen, also serves as drummer for the show. And kudos must be given to the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park for all of Patsy’s colorful cowgirl frocks and glittery dresses.

“Always … Patsy Cline” is a wonderfully moving tribute to this Virginian with an iconic voice. If your musical knowledge of Patsy Cline was limited before, Riverside’s highly entertaining show might even make you a super fan, too.