In the Phoenix Theater Company’s penultimate show for the 2021-22 season, audiences are gifted with a story about the friendship between Louise Seger and Patsy Cline. As music lovers, listeners often feel a connection or personal relationship with its creators. In the case of Louise Seger, she made this connection a reality, as the biography tells Always… Patsy Cline. Much more than a typical musical jukebox, this two-person show offers laughter, sentimentality, warmth and fun that only a brief trip can bring through chance and plenty of southern hospitality.
Based on a true story, Still… tells the story of a bored but exuberant Texas housewife, Seger, who hears Cline while her children watch the TV show, Arthur Godfrey’s talent scouts. From the moment Seger hears her voice, she becomes mildly obsessed and begins calling her favorite radio station asking for Patsy Cline’s I Fall to Pieces four or five times a day. One day, during her daily request, DJ Hal Harris tells her that Cline sings at the Empire Ballroom near her town. Seger decides to arrive hours early, where she meets Cline, and that’s how their friendship’s journey unfolds.
In the opening number, Cassie Chilton as Cline sings Honky Tonk Merry Go Around, mimicking a performance at the Grand Ole Opry. Right off the bat, Chilton surprises you with a playful wink, a little growl in her voice, and the bravado of this darling singer, who was a pioneer in the entertainment industry. Although she says little in this show (the show is told through Seger’s experiences), her eyes, physique, and voice say everything one needs to hear. From previous theatrical performances and as a member of local band Cass and Crossland, Chilton is known for the purity and clarity of her soaring voice as a soprano, so it was feared that the deep, rich notes of the lower register of Cline are lost in favor. this side. That worry was allayed when Chilton sang Seger’s favorite song, I’m falling apart, half-act. Even as I remember it now, the experience was something truly transformative that hit the gut, traveled to the heart, and was held captive there. Her performance was mesmerizing, truly honoring the memory of the singer.
As lively housewife Louise Seger, Katie McFadzen was the perfect yin for Chilton’s yang. McFadzen’s comedic timing, facial expressions and movements were spot on; this car ride choreography is one of the greatest body manipulations ever seen. She conveys the care and love Seger had for Cline and captures the heart while doing so. People should all be so lucky to have her as a friend. And while Chilton does most of the vocals, McFadzen sings along with her in act two, with beautiful harmonizing and a big voice of her own. She is a master storyteller, driving the story. There is never a dull moment, no awkward spaces or weaknesses. McFadzen is a force of nature from start to finish that makes you laugh, smile, and yes, even shed a tear. The joy that McFadzen and Chilton muster on stage is palpable.
The creative team and the orchestra should not be left out. Expertly directed by
Debra K. Stevens, this show held its magic from start to finish. Kevin Robert White, the musical director, conductor and pianist marked every aspect of the music by engaging the audience at the right time every time; Ken Skuggs (pedal steel guitar), Andrew Gonzalez (guitar), Nathaniel de la Cruz (bass) and Michelle Chin (drums) were just lovely and important in bringing the music to life. As Patsy’s group, they were also fun to watch, especially in their interactions with Louise. Thanks to sound designer Ryan Peavey for giving us this rich mix on stage without sacrificing quality. Scenically, Aaron Jackson has designed a set that’s part vintage kitchen, honky tonk bar, and raised platform, plus Sarah Harris’ accessories that take you back to the time of their friendship as if it were a was yesterday. Ashley Gamba and Josh Lutton complete it with their standout costumes and head-turning hairstyles and makeup. Patsy’s costume changes expertly represented the timeline of her career but also her style, from the signature red fringed dress to the sequin dress she wore at the Grand Ole Opry. This attention to detail was also present in the wigs worn by Chilton and McFadzen (the bounce with each headbutt is wonderful). Finally, it’s beautifully lit, bringing the story in and out of flashbacks with drawings by Nathaniel White.
This show is a love letter to friendship and the music that inspired it. This production was a wonderful homage to both of these elements, with each element skilfully rendered. As a music lover, and sometimes even a music lover, most musicals I see with well-known songs rarely work the elements in tandem, and some production is sacrificed. This is not the case with Always… Patsy Cline. There are even more opportunities to see him until August 7. Go bring a friend, share a drink, toast to friendship and cherish every moment together. As it says on Patsy’s Rest Site, “[As] Death cannot kill what never dies: love” – and this show is full of it.