ELLSWORTH — Patsy Cline lovers will want to get themselves to The Grand next weekend to see one of the five final performances of its fine production of “A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline,” for a great nostalgia-filled night out.
First of all, hurrah to The Grand and its new director, Nick Turner, for producing such a professional version of this show, written by Dean Regan in 1991.
The Peter F. Muller and Joe Lewis set, resembling both an art deco stage (very appropriate for the Grand) and a radio recording studio, was both spare and elegant.
Deb Ashmore and Dotty Schaller’s costumes and wigs for Patsy were great fun and helped place us in each decade of her career.
The lighting brought out the best in the set and the star and the sound engineering amplified the band and the singer with excellent balance and nary a blip or feedback screech.
In fact, the whole thing looked and sounded so pro, that before reading the program, one would have assumed this was a touring ensemble that has been traveling together in this show for years, rather than a harmonic convergence of local talents.
Of course, all those top-notch production values would have been just wasted time, energy, space and money if they couldn’t come up with a suitable Patsy. Someone who could sing the music — some of which we all know note for note — with both skill and sincerity.
Fortunately, director Nick Turner appears to be married to just the right person for the job. His wife, Gina Schuh Turner, is an actor and singer who actually is a professional and has played this role several times, which is why, perhaps, she seemed so at ease slipping into Patsy’s song repertoire like a pair of comfortable, but stylish shoes.
It has to be said that Turner does not sound like Patsy, and while she is every bit as glamorous as a country music star ought to be she also is a good decade or so older than Patsy — who died in a plane crash at age 30— ever lived to be.
One has the sense that perhaps this is the sort of singer Patsy Cline would have evolved into had she never boarded that plane. The deep, cello-like lower registers, the perfectly pitched, but slightly fragile, upper registers. Tony Bennett, Dolly Parton, Barbara Streisand, Willie Nelson and so many others have all aged gracefully into their “master” voices and we love them all the more for it. But Patsy never had that opportunity. I was probably not the only one who found herself, at first, a little resentful that Turner was doing it for her.
This “well, she’s good, but she’s no Patsy Cline” attitude lasted about halfway into the first act, when Turner was singing songs Patsy took on as a teenager and young woman eager to make her mark, where a more girlish, less trained quality would have been more appropriate. But when she sang “Walkin’ After Midnight,” it was impossible not to warm up to this version of the country icon.
Vocally, Turner wisely doesn’t pretend to be Patsy as a girl or at any age. She just sings the songs Patsy sang to the best of her considerable ability and eventually we forgive her not being the real deal and just enjoy her take on the tunes. By the second act, which opens with a lively rendition of “Blue Moon Over Kentucky,” moves on to a heartbreaking “She’s Got You” and ends with the thoroughly satisfying “Crazy,” we have fallen in love.
We have also rather fallen for her “sidekick” Timothy McCluskey, who plays a variety of roles — DJ, radio news announcer, hayseed comedian and scotch-in-hand Las Vegas comic, in the Alan King mode.
In truth, the jokes he tells in these interludes are pretty awful, i.e., “So, I told my wife, ‘Baby, I’d go to the ends of the Earth for her,’ and she says, ‘Would you stay there?’” Bada boom.
But like our star, he kind of grows on you. Less wince-worthy are the radio ads the band (mostly Colin Graebert) performs hawking various household cleansers like Ajax and Mr. Clean, some of which I have to admit I remembered the words to.
Instrumentally, Graebert’s band, featuring Rya Morrill on fiddle, Gaylen Smith on guitar, Bob Roman on bass and Tom Bennett on drums, was terrific, but it would have been fun and added more musical texture to the show for them to occasionally perform as full back-up singers as well as musicians. There are some great harmonies to some of these songs and if the band had been singing them, the audience might have joined in, too. But hey finding a good local drummer, fiddler, bassist, etc. who can also do four-part harmony is, perhaps, getting a bit greedy. Or perhaps it was a choice to just focus on Patsy’s vocals.
Still, Saturday night’s audience, felt well-entertained, giving Turner a well-deserved standing O for her masterful performance.
“A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline” has five more performances, at 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, June 28-30, and at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 30, and Sunday, July 1. To reserve seats, call 667-9500 or go to www.grandonline.org.