Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay


Always...Patsy Cline
Sonoma Arts Live
Review by Jeanie K. Smith | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's reviews of Sunday in the Park with George and The Hunchback of Notre Dame


Danielle DeBow and Karen Pinomaki
Photo by Eric Chazankin
Celebrity tribute shows are always tricky, as audiences will inevitably compare the imitation with the original, and too often the imitation fails to deliver the desired satisfaction of the remembered icon. Sonoma Arts Live takes the gamble with its current production of Always...Patsy Cline (created by Ted Swindley in 1988), but the gamble pays off in a wonderfully entertaining and engaging tribute to the much-loved and memorable Cline. Top-notch talents, excellent music, and attractive production elements add up to a captivating and poignant stroll through the country star's songbook.

Kudos to director Michael Ross for casting Danielle DeBow to play Cline. A favorite on local stages, DeBow clearly has done her homework in bringing this country legend to life. Of course no one will be exactly like Cline, but that's okay—DeBow captures enough of the signature vocal inflections and the demeanor to evoke admiration and awaken cherished memories. Audible sighs of appreciation from the audience when she launched into Cline's hits such as "Walkin' After Midnight" or "I Fall to Pieces" gave evidence of sincere gratitude for the skillful song renditions. DeBow's version of "Crazy" generated obvious approval and thankful applause both before and after. There are over 25 songs in the show, covering nearly all of Cline's chart-topping hits—a veritable feast for her fans.

Karen Pinomaki is equally delightful in the characterization of Louise Seger, whose reminiscences about her longtime friendship with Cline form the basis for the tribute. Pinomaki has a lot of fun dancing and joking her way through the role, providing much of the comedic counterpoint and virtually all of the narrative.

Swindley's script chooses to speak through Louise's memories, rather than creating imagined dialogue for Cline. At times this seems like a device that distances, but overall it makes sense, maintaining an aura of mystery and melancholy for the esteemed star.

DeBow mostly performs on stage, with a four-man backup group (Cline often performed with Elvis Presley's backup group, "The Jordanaires") and a fine six-piece band headed by keyboardist Ellen Patterson. While both are excellent, the quartet and band make a formidable sound, and sound designer Jess Johnson could boost DeBow's miking a notch to compensate.

There's an unusual thrust stage configuration for this show, with audience on three sides instead of all facing front. For a few numbers, when Cline is visiting Louise, she sings from a far downstage position. It brings her up close and personal, but also means seeing her from behind a fair amount as she turns to face another audience section. The staging encourages audience interaction with Louise in particular, and gives Cline a break from being on stage—the trade-off being that watching the onstage action from the side is awkward, requiring craning one's neck for long intervals.

Costumes by Ross and wigs by The Wig Guys are wonderful period pieces, truly conjuring the late 1950s and early '60s, and closely imitating Cline's ground-breaking style, including her gold lamé pants. Courtney Johnson's lighting design works wonders with the varying stage positions and memory scenes. Ross and Theo Bridant have nicely put together the clean, minimal scenic design, and Sharon Grgich together with Jaime Love gathered the requisite period props.

This is a show that comes together beautifully, but would fall flat if the two leads didn't match up to the quality behind them. Thankfully, DeBow's sterling recreation of icon Patsy Cline and Pinomaki's charming characterization of Louise are thoroughly enjoyable, and very satisfying, indeed.

Always...Patsy Cline, through July 29, 2018, at Sonoma Arts Live, Sonoma Community Center, 276 East Napa St., Sonoma CA. Tickets $22.00-$37.00 can be purchased online at http://www.sonomaartslive.org or by phone at 866-710-8942


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