Patsy Cline tribute show lacks balance
COHOES, N.Y. » If you are a Patsy Cline fan you will love “Always, Patsy Cline” which plays at the Cohoes Music Hall through Sunday. If you never heard of the country singer who was killed in a plane crash in 1963, you’ll probably leave the show a big fan.
“Always, Patsy Cline” is, at its heart, a Patsy Cline tribute show -- which turns the audience into a Molly Rose McGrath admiration society. The show requires McGrath to sing almost 30 of Patsy Cline’s hits. While the singer captures the flavor of Cline, it is not an impersonation. It is an impressive display of McGrath’s vocal abilities, delivered by a woman with a gifted stage presence.
However, the show attempts to be more than a concert. By using the character Louise Seger, who was a pen pal of Patsy, it hopes to show how the singer actually lived the lyrics of her ballads about strong women loving the wrong men.
Performed with vitality by Benita Zahn, Louise is played as comic relief. She’s loud, sassy and filled with spunk. She’s one level from being crude and always demands she be the center of attention.
Those traits not only separate her from Cline’s genteel behavior - in performance they can be distracting. The most severe example being when Louise conducts the very fine 6-piece onstage band led by music director Brian Axford. The staging of her over-the-top antics in front of the band is annoying in general, but fatal when they ruin the soft, tender and emotional “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”
Louise is Patsy’s number one fan and was so before the singer became a national star. The show centers on one night when Louise attended a Patsy Cline concert with her boyfriend and her boss and she became Cline’s manager for the night. That evening Patsy stayed at Louise’s house. The two bonded so much that the singer would consistently send letters to Louise from the road. They were signed. “Always, Patsy Cline.”
Unfortunately, director Chuck Strauss does not keep the two portrayals in balance. Zahn’s broad, overly-animated portrayal of Louise generates a lot of laughter, but it does so at the expense of the show’s core – believing the friendship between the two women.
It’s almost like there are two shows going on at the same time. Each has its own virtues, but no unifying whole comes from the effort. You leave the theater thinking Molly Rose McGrath is a wonderful singer and Benita Zahn is a funny actress. But you forget Patsy Cline and Louise Seger – and that is a loss.
“Always, Patsy Cline” is produced by Park Playhouse at Cohoes Music Hall. Cohoes. Performances are Friday through Oct. 15.
Benita Zahn, left, portraying Louise Seger, and Molly Rose McGrath, portraying Patsy Cline, are shown in a scene from “Always, Patsy Cline” at the Cohoes Music Hall.