Music Theatre of Connecticut (MTC), Norwalk: Some super star vocalists who produce pure magic on stage with their amazing voices are actually down-to-earth people. At least that’s what Ted Swindley, the creator and writer of the show “Always…Patsy Cline” wants us to know about this country western singer. Patsy rose to fame on the Arthur Godfrey show where Louise Seger first heard the vocalist singing and immediately fell in love with her voice.
Although more than 20 of Cline’s songs are performed in this MTC production, it is not just a tribute to her. It is also a story about bonding and friendship. When the play begins, Louise Seger is remembering how she first met Patsy and how she became her number one fan and devoted friend. The show is based on a true story.
Louise, divorced and a single mom, is played by an energetic Becky Barta, who at times is so bubbly she’s nearly effervescent. When we first meet her, she is sitting at her kitchen table with the radio on; she continually calls the local DJ to play Patsy’s songs. The simple set features a quaint kitchen table and two chairs, a nightclub table and two chairs and a terrific onstage band with music direction by Thomas Conroy. Pamela Hill directs the Norwalk production.
Set in the time period from 1957 until 1963 (when Patsy Cline was killed in a plane accident), the pulse of the show takes place at a Cline concert. Louise and her boss and boyfriend arrive early and unexpectedly get to meet Cline who joins them at their table. Before you know it, Louise is suddenly Patsy’s manager and then becomes in charge of keeping the drummer from rushing Patsy through her numbers. There’s enough humor in the show to keep audiences smiling even when Cline (Mia Scarpa) is not singing.
Because MTC is such an intimate black box theater, the show puts Louise and Cline right in the middle of the audience highlighting the sense of closeness not only with Louise and Cline, but with those attending the show. Director Hill makes the most of this by incorporating audience participation. Louise snags one young man from the audience to dance with her and she’s quick to have the audience clap along with the beat of a song. Even during intermission, the talented musicians mingle with the audience.
Mia Scarpa nails the Patsy Cline vocals. She puts a lot of heart into the numbers and sings about heartbreak with plenty of soul. All of the numbers are performed well, but some of the most outstanding include: “Back in Baby’s Arms,” “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Your Cheating Heart,” “Seven Lonely Days,” and one of Cline’s biggest hits, “Crazy.”
Patsy and Louise wrote to each other often. In the final scene, Louise reads one of the letters that Patsy actually wrote to her friend. She signed her letters, just as the title of this show suggests, “Always…Patsy Cline.”
The production runs through Feb. 24. Box office: 203-454-3883.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in the American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.