Encore Michigan

Patsy Cline comes alive at Encore Musical Theatre

Review November 20, 2021 David Kiley

DEXTER, MI – Patsy Cline tragically died in a plane crash when she was just 30 years old. Maybe that’s why she is thought of in some circles as the female Hank Williams. Williams, too, died young, at 30.

Since her death, Cline has been celebrated for her selection of songs that she made famous (“Crazy” by Willie Nelson, and “I Fall To Pieces” by Cochran and Howard, for example) and her pure vocals and delivery. Some 58 years after her death, Always Patsy Cline, a country jukebox musical has garnered a lot of praise and is viewed as a strong show to showcase Cline’s legacy.

The current production at The Encore Musical Theatre here more than lives up to and does solid justice to Patsy Cline’s legacy.

The story to go with the music is based on a real-life relationship between Cline and fan Louise Seger. The two met by chance, but Cline became a guest at her home on several occasions, socialized and had a letter-writing relationship when Cline was on the road. Each letter was signed, Love Always, Patsy Cline, from which the show title is taken.

Hope Elizabeth Schafer plays Cline, and she does a splendid job of taking on the character – both Cline’s simple, unpretentious manner for which she was well known, as well as her vocals. Schafer is a visiting artist at The Encore, usually performing in New York and Chicago. Director Dan Cooney, Costume Designer Sharon Larkey Urick, and whoever is responsible for Schafer’s hair and make-up all deserve praise for the actress’s overall look, which, along with her excellent vocals, makes the late star come truly to life.

Other memorable songs in the show include: “Sweet Dreams,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” Walkin’ After Midnight,” “Back in Baby’s Arms,” and more. And like most country artists who grew up in church, the show also includes “How Great Thou Art,” a hymn Cline frequently sang.

Frequent Encore performer Sonja Marquis portrays  Louise Seger, a reprise of her performance in the show when the Encore previously presented the show. Marquis is ideally suited for this role, exhibiting just the right ratio of “fan girl” enthusiasm for her idol, along with Southern sass. Marquis’s Louise has just as much to do with keeping the two-hour show (with intermission) moving, paced right and a real story. So often, jukebox musicals have weak books that seem written merely to be in service of the music. Always Patsy Cline does better than that.

The set design, by Sarah Tanner works very nicely, with a big splashy backdrop as a setting for The Grand Ol’ Opry, and a kitchen/kitchen table from the 1950s at stage right to give Louise a place to base herself on stage and host Patsy at her house. There is a café setting at stage left. The new space Encore opened last summer includes a terrific, expansive stage that allows for a much better theatre experience for both actors and patrons.

Tyler Driskill is music director and plays keyboard, and is flanked by John Taylor or Billy Harrington (drums); Nick Martin (guitar); Michael Harrington (slide guitar); Kerry O’hare (fiddle); and Benjamin Powell (bass). It may be Dexter, Michigan, but this combo would be just as welcome in Nashville.

Always Patsy Cline plays through November 28. You can get tickets here. Encore Musical Theatre asks that all patrons wear masks during the performance, and that they be vaccinated or show a clean COVID test within 72 hours of the performance.

Week of 5/16/2022

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