By MIGUEL HERBERT
Special to The Journal
Editor’s note: The closing performances of “Always … Patsy Cline” are tonight and Saturday, 7:30 p.m., in the San Juan Community Theatre. For tickets, call 378-3210 or visit www.sjctheatre.org. Actor Miguel Herbert wrote this review of the play.
Rehearsal, April 5
Four weeks ago, I was allowed to stand back and watch a rehearsal of “Always … Patsy Cline.” Director Merritt Olsen, on a Sunday afternoon, had assembled a formidable staff — sound and lighting techs, set designer, costumer, music director, dialect coach and stage manager — to observe the first off-book run of the show.
He instructed Kate Schuman (playing Patsy) to “take it easy,” given that she did not have her back up band that day. “And … lights up.”
Patsy Cline (Schuman) entered, back on stage at the Grand Ole’ Opry. Five seconds into an a cappella “Honky Tonk Merry-Go-Round,” I had a “Britain’s Got Talent,” Susan Boyle moment.
Even holding back, Schuman’s contralto voice — so Patsy-like — sent chills down my spine. I felt a beaming smile cross my face, and choked up. I was taken back to 1961 when I first heard the real Patsy singing “I Fall to Pieces” on my family’s kitchen countertop radio. And this ‘50s rock ‘n’ roller was a country fan.
The song ended, and Patsy spoke nostalgically about how wonderful it was to be back on stage. Then Julie Greene took over, doing a terrific job so early on in rehearsals, as Patsy’s biggest fan/friend, Louise Seger. Remember, please, this was five weeks before opening night.
Being terrifically moved, after only three songs, I decided to quietly leave. While exiting the rehearsal hall I thought to myself, this production has a chance of being astounding.
Preview, May 2
In 1998, I saw a professional production of “Always … Patsy Cline.” I loved the show, but it paled in comparison to the current San Juan Community Theater presentation. Director Merritt Olsen has crafted something rare, a professional level musical in community theater.
Julie Greene’s performance as Patsy’s friend provided a skilled counter balance to the star of the show, Kate Schuman’s voice. Greene is somehow able to present a boldly outspoken, often hilarious, Louise, without upstaging Schuman. A razor’s edge feat that speaks to her skill as an actor.
In real life, Patsy Cline was bigger than life. When Schuman launched into “I Fall to Pieces” and “Crazy,” we fell back in time, or Patsy came to us, her fans. Audience members sang along with Patsy. Some danced with Louise Seger downstage, while others cheered, applauded, or dabbed at their eyes.
Amazing. Do not miss this show.
— Miguel Herbert is an actor and writer living in Friday Harbor.