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Patsy Cline reborn at Penobscot Theatre

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Patsy Cline reborn at Penobscot Theatre photo by M. Weston Photography
AlwaysPatsy Cline' a portrait of music, love and friendship

BANGOR Penobscot Theatre Company has kicked off its 39th season with its production of 'AlwaysPatsy Cline,' written by Ted Swindley.

'AlwaysPatsy Cline' tells the story of the legendary singer's relationship and ongoing correspondence with an ardently admiring fan. Louise Seger is a lonely Houston housewife, a divorced mother of two who absolutely falls in love with Patsy's voice the moment she first hears it on a television variety show. Before long, Louise is calling her local radio station every day, making multiple requests for Patsy Cline songs.

So when word gets out that Patsy is singing nearby, Louise packs up her pals and heads to see her idol. An early arrival presents an unexpected opportunity - a chance to meet Patsy herself! Only it turns out that Patsy and Louise have a lot in common so much in fact that the two wind up hanging out after the show and Patsy winds up staying at Louise's house.

Thus began a through-the-post friendship that continued until Cline's passing at the too-young age of 30.

Any discussion of this production has to begin with the performances of our two actresses. Laura Hodos is simply marvelous as the country girl-made-good Cline. Hodos brings no less than 27 of Patsy Cline's songs to life over the course of the show. That is not a typo 27 songs. That should be an exhausting night's work; in fact, it likely is an exhausting night's work. However, you'd never know it thanks to the graceful good nature with which Hodos executes her portrayal of the musical legend. It looks easy and effortless throughout, a testament to the considerable talents of Hodos. Her quick wit and beautiful voice come together and make it very difficult to tear your eyes away.

However, what makes this show work what makes it real is the world-building and scene-setting done by Julie Arnold Lisnet as Louise. While Hodos gives us one look at Patsy Cline through music, Lisnet gives us the story behind the story. Her Louise is fearless and unapologetic and empathetic and wise. Lisnet finds ways to deliver both humor and pathos with unceasing energy and an aw-shucks attitude. Seeing Patsy Cline through her eyes helps us see both sides of the singer the music icon and the down-home country girl.

Joining Patsy and Louise onstage throughout are the members of the Bodacious Bobcat Band. Led by pianist and musical director Colin Graebert, this sextet is the absolute best kind of stkicking. Looking like they just dropped in straight from a vintage session of 'Stacey's Country Jamboree,' the Bobcats bring a sweet swinging sound that manages to evoke nostalgia without ever feeling dusty or dated. Add to that a liberal dose of humor and some sweet sound effects and the Bodacious Bobcats become an indispensable part of the proceedings.

A show like 'AlwaysPatsy Cline' that is constructed so heavily around the music runs the risk of becoming more of a revue than a full-on musical, but director Jon Ferreira has managed to avoid the concert vibe and really focus on telling the story of the intersection of these two women while still celebrating Cline's wonderful catalog. Scenic designer Chez Cherry, lighting designer Gregg Carville and costume designer Rebecca Wright have all made major contributions to this production's wonderful aesthetic; Wright's period costumes are vibrant and rich while Cherry's jukebox-themed set is a delight.

'AlwaysPatsy Cline' is engaging theater presented by talented actors and musicians. Even though I have only a passing familiarity with Patsy Cline's body of work, I still had a rip-roarer of a good time. And judging by the hooting, hollering, whistling and foot-stomping from the audience at the performance I attended, I was far from the only one.

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