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A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline

Review by Carol Little

Set in 1963 as a WINC radio retrospect of ‘current’ recording artist Patsy Cline’s rise to success in the music business, documenting her modest beginnings as an outgoing, enthusiastic young singer to her tragic, unexpected death, Dean Regan’s A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline is a nostalgic review of the singer’s hit songs.

Charlottetown’s MacKenzie Theatre held an appropriate casual lounge atmosphere with its newly renovated, stylized bar area for an audience that was predominantly made up of couples and groups of women aged forty and over; a group who either lived through the Patsy Cline era or grew up exposed to the music by the older generation.

The show succeeded in meeting the expectations of its targeted audience of older classic country music fans who rewarded the performers with a rousing ovation. Margot Sampson (“Patsy Cline”) captivated fans with her powerful voice and recreated stage performances mimicking the style of the 1950s. The audience swayed in tune with the vintage country songs and spiritedly sang along with “Patsy” to their favourite songs.

Wade Lynch (“The Little Big Man”) added the feel of a variety show performance by doubling as radio announcer / comedian, complete with charismatic commercials for products such as Mr. Clean and Winston cigarettes using oversized props that the ‘radio audience’ wouldn’t actually be privy to see. These live interstitials lent a slapstick relief between musical numbers. The sole purpose of “The Little Big Man’s” lengthy rendition of the song Oh, Susannah! served as an audience inclusion piece rather than providing narrative pull, but nonetheless kept the crowd roaring with laughter to the point where Mr. Lynch spiritedly shouted, “wait for the punch line!”

Patsy Cline’s untimely death was poignantly portrayed with a dramatic, realistic finish to the evening that while jarring (despite its anticipation) compared to the uplifting and lively numbers in the second half was very fitting.

Not having grown up with Patsy Cline’s music, the songs were not familiar or nostalgic and I was disappointed that there wasn’t more focus on her unique story. Instead, the audience was given more of a Las Vegas-style impersonation tribute show that visually depicted the passage of time through costume changes and radio announcements. The evening lacked the closer look of “Patsy” that one is led to expect to accompany the songs. The play would capture a broader audience had it been presented theatrically with musical numbers that propelled the plot forward rather than a review show that relies heavily on brief spot biographical narration.

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