A CLOSER WALK WITH PATSY CLINE

Stage West production

So here I am in Calgary, Alberta, aka Cow Town, during Stampede week no less, doing a review on a play about a Country music legend. My kids were all born here and are big Country Music fans. I was raised in Toronto and area and the music I listened to as a teen was more rock or pop and lots of classical. People who know me well, know that I am not a big fan of the Country Music of today. What they may not know is that I have fond memories of the oldies like hits by Loretta Lynn, Jonny Cash and Patsy Cline. When I was young, my family gathered around our black and white TV to watch the Tommy Hunter Show. I remember hits like ‘She’s Got You’, ‘Sweet Dreams’, ‘I Fall to Pieces’ and of course ‘Crazy’.
‘A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline’ was created by Dean Regan and according to the program, is one of only two stage musicals about Patsy Cline, officially approved by the Estate of Patsy Cline.
The show begins at WINC Virginia Country radio station with DJ Little Big Man portrayed by Jeremy LaPalme. LaPalme plays a multitude of comics as well and isn’t just a guy in the background. He shows up as different characters, to allow for costume changes and likely a few deep breaths. His performances really add to the humour and enjoyment of the show. The material is of course tailored to the style and content that would have been popular back in the 50s and 60s, so it is not what you call ‘politically correct’. If you can get over that, it is still funny today and is brilliantly executed by LaPalme. The audience ate it up.
I should mention at this point that the band was also onstage and in costume. It’s nice to see the band out front as they add so much to the experience.
Another nice surprise for those of us born in the 50s and 60s, was a selection of commercials that we grew up with. It may sound strange, but I felt a big smile come over my face, as soon as they started singing the jingle for Mr. Clean. Talk about a blast from the past! These were performed by two backup singer/dancers, April Cook and Luke Opdahl, who kept up their high energy throughout the whole show. They also sang backup for Patsy’s performances, with help from a band member and their harmonies were lovely.
The first sight of Patsy Cline, played by Sarah Horsman is a performance for WINC radio. She seems a little hesitant and is obviously nervous. Little touches like fidgeting with her hands and the uncertainty in her facial expression really made it feel like this was her first big performance. Sarah Horsman really nails it. Not only does she have an amazing voice, but she makes us believe that Patsy gains confidence with each performance. We see her mature over the course of the show. She goes from a little country girl hoping to do well, to a class act at Carnegie Hall. The costumes become more and more refined as Patsy’s career takes off. Costume Designer Leslie Robison-Greene, Assistant Costume Designer Jen Gareau, Head of Wardrobe, Esther Koelstra and Dresser Jessica Bazan made sure that every costume was amazing, and every actor was appropriately dressed for their scene. I can only imagine the flurry of activity behind the scenes to make these costume changes happen. Patsy appears in everything from country outfits complete with long white fringes and white cowboy boots to elegant evening wear with a fur wrap.
Sarah Horsman, at least for those two hours, was Patsy Cline. The richness of her lower register was astounding. The mid to high ranges of her voice with the country twang were unmistakeable touches of Patsy Cline. This was a wonderful tribute to one of many brilliant performers who were taken too soon. Patsy Cline died in a plane crash in 1963 when she was only 30 years old. I highly recommend this show, even if you are not a Country Music fan.

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