Review of “Always…Patsy Cline” at Stages St. Louis

    We enjoy looking at a painting, admiring the skill with which the artist has created it, even getting close to appreciate the details. Almost as interesting might be watching the artist at work, seeing how a small brush stroke can suddenly give dimension and depth and reality to a figure. But we can also see the whole work at once, admire it, enjoy it, perhaps even be moved by it. 

    You can’t see a play all at once. You can only see it in bits and pieces, in the details as it moves through time. And when you’ve seen all the details, you can’t see them all together, at once, like a painting. When it has moved through time to the end, it no longer exists.

    But you can examine the details as the artists create them, because that’s all you can examine. And a good place to examine the details now is at Stages St. Louis, where two outstanding artists are creating theatre, detail by detail, at each performance. Diana DeGarmo creates the singer Patsy Cline, and Zoe Vonder Haar creates Louise Seger, a Houston fan and friend of the singer. Cline is the long gone but never forgotten country music singer who crossed over into pop music fandom with a long string of songs she chose with unerring skill for their memorable melodies, strong emotions, and quick rise to the top of the Hit Parade. Called Always…Patsy Cline, this is a jukebox musical, though it barely deserves to be called a musical, with very little story slipping in among 27 songs. And they are great songs, so there’s nothing wrong with a whole evening of them. And there’s nothing wrong with hearing Diana DeGarmo sing them. Without forcing it, she manages to sing them the way Patsy sang them, with that characteristic semi-yodel that made each version distinctively hers. And she takes the stage with confidence, whether it’s a small nightclub or the Grand Ole Opry. DeGarmo doesn’t get a chance to do much acting, but what she does make me want to see her in a leading role sometime.

    If Ameren could hook Zoe Vonder Haar up to the electrical grid, we’d have no more power outages. She radiates energy as Louise Seger, the Houston housewife who stumbles into a friendship with Patsy Cline when Cline comes to Houston for a concert. Louise gives her drinks and shelter for the night, a ride to the airport, and a decade as pen pals–hence the title, Always…Patsy Cline. Louis is our hostess too, welcoming us to her kitchen and living room as she recounts her contact with celebrity, even breaking into dance with the thrill of it, because having Vonder Haar in a show without dancing would be like having Pestalozzi Street with no beer.

    I suspect that the new Kirkwood Performing Arts Center may have made life a little easier for the designers, crafts artists and crews than the more limited facilities at the Robert G. Reim Theatre, despite the spectacular miracles they wrought there. James Wolk’s scenery and Sean M. Savoie’s lighting used scrims and lights to make magic. Brad Musgrove gave Patsy Cline lovely, becoming gowns for her performances. Musical director Jeremy Jacobs leads an exuberant six-piece country band. And there is nothing retiring about the shrewd direction and musical staging of Michael Hamilton.

    –Bob Wilcox

    Photo by ProPhotoSTL