Since we're in the summer doldrums on Broadway let's hop across the country to Broadway West, Las Vegas, and take a look at the latest musical to hit sin city.
Always...Patsy Cline was a wonderful tribute to a great country western singer when it was done Off Broadway three years ago at the Variety Arts Theatre. It starred Tori Lynn Palazola as Patsy Cline and Margo Martindale, as Louise, the gal who befriends Patsy during this heartwarming story of bonding between a star and an admirer. Patsy, of course, is country and western's biggest recording female star ever. And Louise is just a one woman fanclub who listens to the radio, circa 1957, requesting Patsy Cline tunes to be played hourly by Hal the local disc-jockey.
The story goes that Patsy does a gig in Louise's town and they meet that night, form a friendship, and then correspond via mail for a few years. Supposedly, this is based on a true story.
The New York production was a loving tribute to Cline, and the actors took second billing to the memory of Patsy. Both Palazola and Martindale did superb jobs worthy of Tony nominations (if it had been Broadway, not Off Broadway.) Audiences were taken back to the 1950's and met Patsy and relived those wonderful songs, and we all knew where we were going, to that heartbreaking end.
Welcome to Las Vegas! It's three years later, a new production of the show is out on tour starring Sally Struthers and Rachel Ricca. What was a glowing tribute to Cline has now become a vaudeville for the star, Struthers. Star only because her name is credited bigger than anyone else's and her part has been embellished beyond embarrassment. No longer is the central character Patsy Cline, but it's now some scene-stealing caricature.
Struthers makes her entrance like a steam-rolling electric chicken with big hair about ready to do some shit-kicking country dancing (she does that later)...subtle she's not, and that's what the character of Louise should be about. She's there to narrate the story and bring Patsy to us, and she should quietly remove herself when it's Cline's turn. Not only does Struthers ham it up beyond your wildest dreams, she upstages the character of Cline at every opportunity, even during solo numbers.
Rachel Ricca as Patsy does a nice job here, at first not quite finding the voice, but eventually she slips into the role and voice. Of course, the entire audience is waiting for the parade of hits and they do come. The only problem is that you want to sit back and enjoy them and relive the memory but Struthers doesn't allow that. She just can't sit still or allow Ricca to have that spotlight. For instance, she has to join Patsy in a few duets, go out into the audience during another solo, or do some commentary schtick during the middle of "3 Cigarettes and an Ashtray." "Crazy" is Cline's signature song, and there's Struthers right in the middle of it talking about a frying pan or something.
In all fairness to Struthers, a friend I was with thought she was quite funny. He hadn't seen the show in New York, though. What they have done here is taken a wonderful tribute to a great singer, with a little story that tugs at the heart strings, and turned it into a star vehicle, and by doing so, this Always...Patsy Cline totally misses the mark, bypasses the warmth, and veers for the funnybone. In New York, the show was lovingly directed by Ted Swindley, also the author. Here, it's directed by Sharon Rosen, who should get outta the desert by sundown! Someone was credited for doing set design. Where? Did I miss something? The show was presented more like a concert version using just a few props, a table and two chairs.
Overall, it's still somewhat entertaining if this is your thing, or you're a Struthers fan, but this show shouldn't be confused with the New York production.
Always...Patsy Cline, Silverton Hotel Showroom, Las Vegas. $27.50.
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