‘Always ... Patsy’ shines at Carousel
By David Ritchey
SOUTH AKRON — Patsy Cline (1932-63) was one of the greatest singers of the last century.
Cline had a strong voice, a velvet tone and was emotionally expressive with the lyrics. What more could anyone ask from a singer?
Carousel Dinner Theatre now is staging a production of “Always ... Patsy Cline,” which will be on stage through Aug. 26. When I saw the show July 6, the audience loved Patsy and the show. The cast loved the audience. And it can’t get much better than that.
Playwright Ted Swindley based the script on a true story.
Arthur Godfrey (1903-83), a radio and TV personality from the 1940s and 1950s, had a Monday night TV show, “Talent Scouts.” Three or four performers entertained, the audience applauded and one performer was invited to perform the rest of the week on “Arthur Godfrey Time,” Godfrey’s morning show.
Cline auditioned and was accepted for “Talent Scouts.” When she finished singing, Godfrey, in an unusual move, took Cline out of the competition and gave her a slot on his morning show for the rest of the week.
Godfrey is remembered for his description of the progression of President Franklin Roosevelt’s bier through Washington, D.C., and he is infamous for his on-the-air firing of Julius LaRosa in 1953.
Louise (Lily Mercer), a Houston woman, was working in the kitchen when she heard Cline (Christine Mild) singing on “Arthur Godfrey Time.” Louise was so taken by Cline’s voice that she called the local radio station and requested Cline’s recordings. A few years later, Louise learned that Cline was to perform in a local saloon. Louise went, met Cline, helped Cline with the local performance, took her home for bacon and eggs, and drove her to a country radio station for an interview the next morning.
The women became close friends. They exchanged letters, which Cline signed, “Always ... Patsy Cline.” Those letters form the outline of the play.
Cline’s career was cut short by her death in an airplane accident. Cline’s fans know “Crazy,” “Back in Baby’s Arms,” “Walkin’ After Midnight” and “I Fall to Pieces.” In fact, the show includes more than 20 of her hits.
This production is a success
because of the collaboration of many talented people.
For example, scenic designer Robert
Kovach keeps the band on stage, provides a kitchen for
Louise’s home and a stage area for the various
places where Cline performed. This flowing design permits
the two actresses and the band to have a great deal
Resident costume designer Dale
DiBernardo created 10 costumes for Cline that are appropriate
for the late ’50s and early ’60s. DiBernardo
designed a cowgirl-type costume that seemed appropriate
for Louise to wear to a
country-western club. DiBernardo also designed costumes
that helped evoke the era of Cline’s stage and
Director Donna Drake helped the
two actresses create an ensemble production. Mild has
the songs because she plays Cline, but this show will
not work without a strong, important Louise. Drake makes
their friendship leap off the stage. Consequently, when
Cline dies in the accident, Louise wasn’t the
only one in the Carousel
who had tears in her eyes.
This production works on several
levels. When an established star sings his/her big hits,
audiences will often applaud at the first of a song
with approval. However, this isn’t Cline on the
stage; this is an actress in a musical production that
is about Cline. The Carousel audience made a big leap
and accepted Mild as Cline and applauded at the first
of her songs, too.
Both Mild and Mercer
are excellent in their roles. Both
help evoke the spirit and style of Cline.
Steve Parsons (musical director/piano)
leads a group of six musicians, who accompany Mild.
However, Parsons and his group are equally important
in telling the story as Mild and Mercer.
Carousel offered “Always
... Patsy Cline,” a few years ago. That production
was such a success that it had more sold-out performances
than any production Carousel has
This also is an excellent production
and has the potential to fill the Carousel many times
between now and Aug. 26, when the show closes. For ticket
information, call (330) 724-9855.
David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in
communications and is a professor of communications
at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American
Theatre Critics Association.
Christine Mild (Patsy Cline),
left, and Lily Mercer (Louise) share their stories in
Carousel Dinner Theatre’s production of “Always
... Patsy Cline.” Photo
courtesy of Eric Mull Photography