Once Is Luck. Twice Is Twirling.
We were here on June 29th for "Always...Patsy Cline." What a fabulous show to see during our first visit to your theatre. Thank you so much! The performers are very talented!
A Burnsville, MN patron
Most of us are familiar with the often disappointing feeling associated with a Hollywood sequel or remake of an already great film. With creativity in Tinsel Town seemingly waning, the new trend is to not even touch the original movie itself, but instead to simply reintroduce it in 3D to try and recapture, or even outperform, the film’s original appeal to the audience.
In theatre, however, we are more accustomed to seeing a show remounted and return to the stage after a successful run. But the pressure here is often greater as audience make-ups can change, casting is not always the same and, as those of us in the industry know all too well, history does not always repeat itself. So, what happens when a relatively young dinner theatre, now in its seventh year of existence, decides to remount its first show, or rather shows, ever?
St. Croix Off Broadway Dinner Theatre recently reopened Always . . . Patsy Cline, originally staged there in 2007, and it is the first of three previous productions to be restaged there in the coming year. Over the holiday season A Don’t Hug Me Christmas Carol, first staged at St. Croix Off Broadway in its inaugural year of 2006, will make its second appearance, followed by the reprise of Righteous! The Story of the Righteous Brothers in the spring of 2014. Though Righteous! is not a direct remount as it has been extensively rewritten by artistic director, theatre co-owner, and playwright Jim Zimmerman, the first two are word-for-word and note-for-note identical productions. And, if the performance of Always . . . Patsy Cline is any indication of how this stretch will go, regular theatre patrons are in for a very pleasant surprise and an exciting year of great performances.
For those not familiar with the show, the musical is based on a true story and is centered simply and delicately on the lives of two women. Louise Seger, played by Lydia Olson, is a southern fireball who falls in love with Patsy and her voice (played once again by St. Croix Off Broadway veteran Stephanie Osman) from the first time she saw her perform on television. She eventually meets her and becomes Cline’s good friend until her untimely death in March of 1963. The five-piece band makes up the only other people the audience sees on stage. Louise functions as the narrator and tells her story as Patsy ties it all together with her classic songs.
With such a narrow focus on only two characters and nothing else to fall back on, the show demands three things: a spot-on Patsy, a rock-solid Louise, and a can’t-miss, classic country western band. Fortunately for all of us, this production delivers all three pristinely wrapped with no gift receipt required.
Obviously, the biggest requirement to remounting another successful production of this show hinges on the role of Patsy Cline herself. “Let’s keep it in the same gear,” Osman says as Patsy in transition from the first to the second number of the show, though it is immediately evident this time around that this particular production is in a whole other gear up from the original production.
I was fortunate enough to see, though not review, the original staging of this production and, with the return of Stephanie Osman to the role, the success of this character in particular was a sure thing. As a critic I often observe the reaction of the audience to things following my own observations to see where they stand in comparison to my own reactions. However, this proved nearly impossible during this performance as Osman’s voice, presence, and entire persona put me in a complete trance. Eyes open or closed, whenever she appears on stage and starts to sing, it is difficult to tell whether we as an audience are watching a play or are actually at one of Patsy Cline’s shows.
Perhaps it is because of age and maturity with Osman now being the same age as Patsy at her death or perhaps it is because she is recently a mother herself, but whatever the reason, Osman completely embodies all that is Patsy Cline and for two brief hours, brings her back to life for all of us to enjoy one more time.
Patsy Cline sang so many well-known songs and all of the greats are present in this show. “Sweet Dreams,” “Walkin’ After Midnight," “Back in Baby’s Arms,” “Faded Love,” and “Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray” are just some of the classics that Osman absolutely nails as Cline. When she belts, “I’m back where I belong” in the second number of the show, it is easy to see in her eyes and hear in her voice that this couldn’t be more true for her.
f course, the true test is always how a performer handles the most well-known song of the artist he or she is portraying. There are certain songs that we as listeners are so used to hearing only by the original artist that anyone else’s rendition just can’t seem to compare. Frankie Valli’s “Walk Like a Man,” The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody,” and Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” are just a few that come to mind, and Cline’s “Crazy” is no exception. From the very first note she sings in the song, audiences will be holding their breath with arms covered in goose bumps as they are transported back in time by Osman’s soothing voice. That is, of course, once you get past the initial gasps of the audience murmuring things like, “She sounds just like her!”
Songs alone, though, would only make this a concert. Telling the story and setting up each of the numbers is the character of Louise. When considering whether or not to remount the show, this was likely Director Jim Zimmerman’s biggest concern, as the actress portraying Louise in his original production was delightful. But, as Osman did with the role of Patsy, Lydia Olson made the role of Louise all her own and completely perfected the part.
Olson has an energy, a light, a vibrancy, and a passion for the character unmatched by her predecessor. Telling the story directly to the audience with the absence of a fourth wall, Olson’s dialect, comic timing, story-telling ability, and physical command of her body is nothing short of spectacular.
When you place these two incredible performances over a bed of studio-quality live music, there is simply no stopping this show. The five-person band is lead by pianist Cole Thomas, who also tickled the ivories in “Righteous!” Also returning from the original production is Kermit Clarin back on the steel guitar. Clearly these are professional musicians as all five have a mastery of their instruments, but their playing talents are just one part of their performance. The background vocals they provide in “I Fall to Pieces,” “Sweet Dreams,” “You Belong to Me,” and, particularly their rendition of “How Great Thou Art” following Patsy’s death, are incredibly moving.
Finally, behind every great actor and musician is a great stage manager. Greg Lund holds up his end of the deal having one of the most challenging jobs. Balancing all of the performers’ vocal levels perfectly with the mix of the band’s levels, it is almost as if you are listening to one of those digitally remastered Time Life collections.
Patsy at one point during the show says, “Let’s slow it down a bit, Hoss,” but immediately following the line the band kicks into the up-tempo number “Stupid Cupid.” This is a fitting summary for the entire show. Though it has its softer and more sensitive moments, the show doesn’t ever slow down at all and never misses a beat. The twelve numbers in the first act seem to blink by in matter of minutes.
I had a choreographer back in college who used to have a saying. Having been a baton-twirler growing up, anytime we pulled off a number correctly for the first time during rehearsal, she would say, “Once is luck. Twice is twirling. Do it again and show me it wasn’t luck.” The remount of Always . . . Patsy Cline at St. Croix Off Broadway is most definitely twirling at maximum revolutions.
“I never forgot that voice and I never forgot the feeling it gave me,” Olson reminisces as Louise. With this year marking the 50th anniversary of Patsy Cline’s death, and the brilliant performances in this production, thankfully, audiences won’t forget either.
Always . . . Patsy Cline at St. Croix Off Broadway Dinner Theatre, located at the Hudson House Grand Hotel in Hudson, WI, runs Fridays and Saturday evenings through August 9. A $56 price tag includes dinner; coffee, pop, tea, or milk; show; tip; and tax, and will send you home smiling. There are three noon lunch matinees June 29, July 20, and August 10 for $44. Get your tickets by calling 715-386-2394 ext. 333 or order them online at stcroixoffbroadway.com. Also like them on Facebook at facebook.com/SCOBDT for much more insight and information.
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St. Croix Off Broadway Dinner Theatre
1616 Crest View Drive, Hudson, WI 54016 Box Office: (715)386.2394 ext. 332
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