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A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline

Review by Norah Pendergast

The musical tribute, A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline, has been produced over one hundred times for appreciative audiences throughout North America. Here in Charlottetown, it has been the MacKenzie Theatre’s most successful production ever. The show ran this spring from May 26th until June 18th.

A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline, written by Canadian Dean Regan in 1991, has very rich subject matter, a skill fully arranged script, and an excellent cast. Audience members are transported back in time to relive the rags to riches story of Virginia Hensley, the down-home girl with a soulful voice, who patiently and resolutely followed her dream of becoming a regular on the “Grand Ole Opry.” Patsy Cline spent ten years in the business before she made it big with her hit, “Walkin’ After Midnight.” After a brief brush with stardom came that fateful night in 1963 when she was immortalised in a plane crash. A country music legend, Patsy Cline’s broad fan base has grown exponentially since her premature death.

Marlane O’Brien has played “Patsy” in 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, and again in 2005. O’Brien succeeds in the very demanding role, flawlessly delivering the twenty-two song soundtrack, which includes favourites like “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “Leavin’ On Your Mind,” “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” “Back in Baby’s Arms,” “I Fall To Pieces,” and “Always.” Together, O’Brien and her back up band offer spectators the chance to experience what seems like a bona fide Patsy Cline concert in the timeless, intimate setting of MacKenzie Theatre.

Director and costume designer, Wade Lynch plays opposite O’Brien in the role of “The Little Big Man.” Through multiple Masters of Ceremonies at different locations across America, Lynch interactively keeps the audience laughing and propels the sequence of Patsy’s life. The audience is ushered from Cline’s humble beginnings at a Winchester Virginia radio station, to Nashville, to Vegas, and finally, at the zenith of her career, to Carnegie Hall in New York City.

The play is also rare opportunity to see a very accurate portrayal of a 1950s classic country band. “The Melody Playboys,” are played by Dale DesRoches, Chas Guay, Chris Corrigan, and Brad Fremlin. Together they accompany O’Brien’s powerful voice with impressive instrumentals and harmonic back up vocals.

A creative set, effective lighting, and fabulous costumes help round out the memorable experience of A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline. The show is very well researched, with the sensation of time transport authenticated by snippets of contemporary history in politics and sports, and even advertisements hilariously performed by Lynch and the “Playboys.” Spectators, who are included as the WINC radio station’s studio audience, are taught that in the 1950s Sun Records revolutionized the genre of country music when they started assigning hesitant traditional musicians, like Patsy, songs which would also be hits on the pop charts.

The show’s production advisor, Charlie Dick married Patsy Cline in 1957 and was left with two young daughters when she died. Dick has helped to make A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline a true celebration of Patsy Cline’s musical life. The Confederation Centre has struck country gold with the production, it’s great cast and excellent, timeless music.

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