Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Always...Patsy Cline
The Phoenix Theatre Company
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's review of Altar Boyz

Cassie Chilton and Katie McFadzen
Photo by Reg Madison Photography
Jukebox musicals that feature the songs associated with a famous singer or a singing group, such as Jersey Boys and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, have proven to be quite popular in the past decade. More than 30 years ago, one of the first jukebox shows premiered, became a hit, and has gone on to be frequently produced in regional theatres. Always...Patsy Cline is based on the real relationship the famous country and western singer had with one of her fans and it features more than two dozen hits and all of Cline's famous songs, including "I Fall to Pieces," "Crazy," and "Walking After Midnight." The Phoenix Theatre Company's production is one of the best I've seen of this charming musical, with two great performances by local actresses Katie McFadzen and Cassie Chilton, who is stellar as Cline, with perfect phrasing and a glorious vocal delivery that beautifully evokes the heart and soul of this famous singer.

While many people are aware of Cline's music and that she died in a plane crash, the musical (created by and with a book by Ted Swindley) shows how she also had a strong relationship with her fans. Set in 1961, two years before the plane crash, Always...Patsy Cline focuses on the friendship Cline had with Louise Seger, a Houston housewife who befriended Cline at a local concert. Cline and Seger became friends who wrote to each other over the next two years, until Cline's sudden death at the young age of 30. Swindley crafted a piece that uses dialogue depicting the conversations they had and the letters they wrote. The title of the show comes from how Patsy would sign her letters and the show is mainly set on the night Cline spent at Seger's home after her local concert.

Swindley does a nice job intertwining the personal stories Seger shares about the relationship she had with Cline and what her music meant to her, with musical performances of Cline's famous songs. The show is told entirely from Seger's point of view and she has the only dialogue, which does make the dramatic element a bit lopsided, but director Debra K. Stevens does a very good job incorporating Cassie Chilton into some of the dialogue scenes and Katie McFadzen into the musical sequences to help balance the show out. Stevens also makes great use of the realistic set by Aaron Jackson, which is divided into three sections (Louise's kitchen, a bar, and a bandstand), and ensures that her two actresses create realistic individuals, the dramatic scenes ring true, and the comedy moments in the show shine.

Cassie Chilton is superb as Cline. Her rich, detailed singing voice and nuanced vocal abilities echo the throaty and deep signature sound of Cline in a wide range of musical styles, from country to gospel, hymns, and even a touch of early rock 'n' roll. If you're a Patsy Cline fan you will find much to love and admire in Chilton's excellent vocal performance as well as her ability in just a few pieces of dialogue to make Cline a grounded, real person. Katie McFadzen is a comical hoot as the wise-cracking and lovable Louise. Through assured line delivery and bright facial expressions, McFadzen makes Louise a smart and sassy, no-nonsense broad who is full of life and love. Together, McFadzen and Chilton beautifully and realistically depict the friendship these two women shared.

Kevin Robert White's music direction and Joshua Condon's conducting of the excellent five-piece, onstage band, deliver rich and impressive notes. Ashley Gamba's costumes for Chilton are superb, with numerous designs that are beautiful and period perfect. Josh Lutton's hair designs are excellent. The lighting design by Nathaniel White is infused with nuance and color, and Ryan Peavey's sound design delivers crisp notes and vocals throughout.

Always...Patsy Cline at The Phoenix Theatre Company features impeccable performances, clear direction, and impressive creative aspects. While it may be a slight and simple show, it's also a charming musical and an important reminder of the musical accomplishments of Cline, who died so young, and the strong connection she had with her fans.

Always...Patsy Cline runs through August 7, 2022, at The Phoenix Theatre Company, 1825 N Central Avenue, Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 602-254-2151.

Director: Debra K. Stevens
Musical Director: Kevin Robert White
Scenic Designer: Aaron Jackson
Lighting Designer: Nathaniel White
Costume Designer: Ashley Gamba
Sound Designer: Ryan Peavey
Hair + Makeup Designer: Josh Lutton
Properties Master: Sarah Harris
Director of Production: Karla Frederick
Stage Manager: Michele Elias *

Cast (in alphabetical order):
Patsy Cline: Cassie Chilton *
Louise: Katie McFadzen *

* Members of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors & stage managers in the U.S.