by Clark Groome
When the great country singer Patsy Cline made her debut on “The Arthur Godfrey Show” in 1956, she was almost immediately a sensation. One of Godfrey’s viewers, Louise Seger from Houston, fell in love with her singing.
When Cline came to Houston to perform, Seger met her, and they formed a close friendship that lasted until Cline was killed in a plane crash on March 5, 1963.
The story of their friendship and Cline’s best-known songs form “Always … Patsy Cline,” which is on view at the Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio on 3 through July 3.
The show, created by Ted Swindley, gives too much time to the friendship that Patsy and Louise share. Overall, the play, which is about two hours long, dragged when the music stops.
Cline’s best known songs — “Walkin’ after Midnight,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Sweet Dreams,” “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” and “Got a Lot of Rhythm in My Soul,” among them — are all there, so there’s no lack of great music.
Jenny Lee Stern’s Patsy is a huge disappointment. Nothing about her performance looked or sounded real. Her singing, while on key, lacked Cline’s vocal clarity. There was a lot of swooping from one note to the next and a swallowing of the words and the music to which they’re set. She also lacked any sensitivity to the lyrics that are so important to her repertoire.
The two musicians — Billy Thompson on piano and Spiff Wiegand on fiddle, steel guitar, electric guitar and miscellaneous drums and cymbals — were first rate. Not only did they supply musical backing to Stern’s singing; they also gave her very strong vocal support when it was called for.
Denise Whelan did a nice job as Louise, although there were times when she looked to be trying very hard to be funny or sincere or whatever.
Directed by Debi Marcucci, the Walnut Studio’s production features a fine physical production designed by Glen Sears (set), Mark Mariani (costumes), Troy A. Martin-O’Shia (lighting) and John Koblinski (sound).
Patsy Cline’s music is always worth hearing. It’s just too bad it wasn’t handled better in this iteration of “Always … Patsy Cline.”
For tickets, call 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787 or visit www.walnutstreettheatre.org