Arts and Entertainment

'Always ... Patsy Cline': Schuman, Greene are bombshells in biographical blockbuster

Kate Schuman gives a stunning portrayal of the late Patsy Cline. - James Krall
Kate Schuman gives a stunning portrayal of the late Patsy Cline.
— image credit: James Krall

I was a bit ambivalent about watching a show about Patsy Cline, not being a strong country-western fan, although I remembered listening to a few of her songs back in the ’50s.

I am now here to tell you that even if you never heard of her before, you will become an instant Patsy Cline fan if you attend director Merritt Olsen’s production at the San Juan Community Theatre.

Based on a true story, the manner in which this stage show in which Kate Schuman brings Cline to vibrant life will amaze you. Of course, there is some recorded music relating to the 27 musical numbers which Ted Swindley used in writing this long-running hit show on Broadway and other drama centers. But most of these tunes are beautifully presented by our Schuman in a marvelously warm voice that brings every word clearly to the silent audience as she sings.

Silent, that is, until each number ends and the preview night crowd last Saturday erupted with cheers and great applause throughout the evening.

The Bodacious Bobcats Band — comprising all local musicians — was a huge part of the success of the show, to the extent that you had to pinch yourself to believe you were hearing so much talent from five locals: Music Director “Keith-Bob” Busha on piano and guitar; “Tom-Bob” Doenges on lead guitar; “Steve-Bob” Keys on bass; “Hanneke-Bob” Klein-Robbenhaar on the fiddle as only a classical violinist could do; and “Denny-Bob” Holm on drums.

What a group — they demonstrated how island musicians rise to every occasion with excellence. They showed how Cline inspired them with her honest heartfelt songs even if, as she said, “I don’t know the keys or even read music!”

The bombshell of the show, however, was Julie Greene’s performance as Louise Seger, who befriended Cline for the last six years of Cline’s life (cut short by an airplane crash at the age of 30). In her role, Greene reminisces about their friendship and the entire stage and audience is involved as she cavorts as a band director, dances with patrons (the theater’s front-row seats were removed to make way for a dance floor) and prances with a body language which should make dance consultant Lynda Guernsey proud.

The patrons are those in the audience who choose to come forward to dance in Steve Judson’s roadhouse setting, with barrel tables and stools like we used to see on the country roads on the edge of town in the ’30s. If only line-dance impresario Tony Surina could be here now. How he would have enjoyed it.

When you come to see this show, be prepared to do some foot stomping of your own. Cowboy boots are welcome. The lighting (including the obligatory reflective ball, which lit up the whole theatre as it rotated like an old Lawrence Welk dance hall stop) was exceptionally good thanks to light board operator Vanessa Johnson and light crew Holly Swanson and Danny Stough.

Gary Ford’s sound management was superb. Deb Langhan’s makeup and Christy DeFillips’ wigs were right on mark. Dialect coaches Anita Welch and Kim Burns did an amazing job in turning the two-person cast of Greene and Schuman (two Washington natives) into genuine Southern country girls.

Now I’ve been going to shows locally since the ’70s. I’ve never before seen three standing ovations — which resulted in three great encore — as we saw on preview night.

There are seven more performances and, if you don’t catch one of them between now and May 16, you really need to get a life. It will lift your spirits to meet Patsy Cline and her friend Louise Seger. Friendship like that makes a big difference in this world.

"Always ... Patsy Cline" runs tonight, 7:30 p.m.; May 9, 7:30 p.m.; May 10, 5 p.m.; May 14, 7:30 p.m.; May 15, 7:30 p.m; and May 16, 7:30 p.m.

For tickets, call 378-3210 or visit www.www.sjctheatre.org.

— Contact Howard Schonberger at 378-5696 or hschonberger@sanjuanjournal.com.

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