"Patsy Cline & #1 Fan, Together Again"

Published: Tuesday, February 16, 2016 By: BRUCE APAR Source: Bruce The Blog Theater Reviews

The ardor and admiration that defines Patsy Cline’s legion of fans was on full display at the opening of Westchester Broadway Theater’s current dinner-theater production, “Always… Patsy Cline.” One of my wife Elyse’s favorite pieces of music is “Crazy” (maybe because in part it reminds her of me). That beautiful song also serves as a timeless reminder of an extraordinary voice that was stilled at the tragically tender age of 30.

Written by country music maker Willie Nelson, “Crazy” is the signature recording of Miss Patsy Cline, owner of a quintessentially clarion country sound that crossed over to the pop charts in the 1960s, and continues to thrill listeners with its heavenly tonality.

The Bodacious Bobcat Band is part of the cast on stage for the duration of the show as it backs up Erin McCracken as Patsy Cline. Photo by John Vecchiolla

IMPROBABLE FRIENDSHIP: The jukebox musical is built around more than 25 of her trademark tunes, including “Walkin’ after Midnight,” “Sweet Dreams,” and “I Fall to Pieces.” Helping to propel the hit parade — which also includes standards like “Stupid Cupid,” “You Belong to Me,” “True Love,” and “Shake, Rattle & Roll” — is a lightly-played storyline about the singer’s improbable friendship with a Houston fan, Louise Seger.

The two crossed paths in a honky-tonk one night when Ms. Seger came to see her idol perform. Their warm friendship extended to chatting over coffee in the fan’s home. They remained avid pen pals from 1961 until Patsy perished in an airplane accident in March 1963.

When Louise Seger first heard Patsy Cline on the radio, she was star-struck by the singer’s incomparable voice. Photo by John Vecchiolla

As familiar as the Cline catalog is to her erstwhile admirers, it’s a revelation to hear it recreated by the larger-than-life talent of Erin McCracken, who comes crazy close to sounding like the one-and-only original. 

CLASSIC TROUPERS: Close by her side throughout is the thoroughly engaging comic relief and storytelling antics of Susann Fletcher as Louise Seger. These ladies are classic show biz troupers, backed on stage by the high-energy Bodacious Bobcat Band, comprised of piano (Ken Lundie), steel guitar and fiddle (Guy Fischetti), bass (Geoff Marrow), and drums (Ken Ross).

The three-sided dinner-theater stage nicely conveys the down-home ambience and period feel of a Texas bar, with a jukebox and the band upstage, while downstage is a dinette set for the homey kaffee klatsches between the women. One of my favorite set design choices is a sign that reads “Houston Colt .45s,” the city’s national league baseball club that started in 1962, which three years later was renamed Houston Astros. 

This joyful and touching show starts, Grand Ole Opry-style, with a rollicking rockabilly number, “Honky Tonk Merry Go Round,” and rises to a rousing finish with the traditional barn-burner, “Bill Bailey.” Along the way, along with the tasty meals served at WBT, we’re treated to a feast of song and patter that’s free-wheeling and fast-moving.

POST SCRIPT: Singing star Patsy Cline and Number 1 fan Louise Seger maintained an avid pen pal relationship until Miss Cline’s tragic death in an airplane crash in 1963.

More than 35 years ago, rock star Peter Gabriel — he of British group Genesis before setting out on a hugely successful solo career — somehow ended up sitting in my Manhattan living room. He had called me at my office, out of the blue, to ask if he could pick my brain about the new thing called “Video” because he saw me listed as editor of a magazine of the same name.

Alas, unlike the Cline-Seger relationship, I never heard from my pal Pete again. I guess you could say this Gabriel, even though he’s not a trumpet player, blew me off.

Given the estimable success that has resulted from immortalizing the Patsy-Louise connection, it’s astonishing that nobody has been inspired to cash in on the momentous coming together of Peter and Bruce. That’s somebody’s loss (just don’t ask me whose), for I have to believe that buried somewhere in our historic meeting — a dozen stories above the big-city din of Second Avenue and 23rd Street — is the genesis of one sledgehammer of a Broadway blockbuster.