It Might as Well Be 1963: “A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline”

Presented by the Peterborough Players
A musical about the legendary country singer by Dean Regan
Directed by Tom Frey
Music directed by Ellen Mandel

Sept. 3 – 14, 2014
55 Hadley Road
Peterborough, NH 03458
Peterborough Players on Facebook

Review by Kitty Drexel

Trigger Warnings – vintage racism

(Peterborough, NH) The musical’s title, A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline references her cover of the gospel song and last single, “Just A Closer Walk with Thee.” Just as Cline sings about her desire to walk with God, this musical expresses Dean Regan’s wish for just one more concert communion with Cline. To those who worship at the church of song, A Closer Walk was a spiritual experience of the musical variety. Bridget Beirne is so good in the title role that audiences might have gotten their wish.

The audience is spirited to March 5, 1963 in Winchester, Virginia. Radio host Little Big Man (Kraig Swartz) is playing the great hits of Patsy Cline to celebrate her concert on the same night in Kansas City. He is our narrator and emotional barometer for the evening, telling his audience Cline’s abridged life story while spinning records. He is joined on the stage (but not in the studio) by the Cline’s band and three backup vocalists; Zack Steele, Corrado Alicata, and Chase Wheaton-Werle.

Bridget Beirne plays Cline with great charisma and authenticity. She captures Cline’s signature twang, phrasing and style. Beirne’s healthy belt might not be an exact match for Cline’s timbre (This is not my expectation but I overheard fans saying this very thing. To them, I say: pshaw!) but her stage appeal is.

Beirne approaches Cline with the same vivacity that Vaughn Meader approached his famous JFK impersonation. Meader’s impersonation of Kennedy was flamboyant to a point inaccuracy. Meader created a caricature of Kennedy that was identifiable because it was so over the top. This excessive flourish connoted respect, a joke intended to endear rather than belittle. It worked. America loved Vaughn Meader and made The First Family, Meader’s record, a national hit.

Beirne, like Meader, takes her impersonation to an extreme. The necessity of this is two fold: First, to convey her character to the patrons seated all the way in the back of the theatre (in the cheap seats). Second, to make her character memorable. Cline’s most recognizable traits are her extremes, not the quaint moments in which she was a woman like any other. To deride Beirne for giving us exactly what we want is juvenile. An audience wants to hear the music that made Cline famous and not the little ditties that she tinkered with on a night off. This is exactly what we were given. Those interested in a set list can find it here.

The costumes by Rene Purdy were picture perfect from the red and white appliques on Patsy’s navy dress to Little Big Man’s snappy fishing vest.

A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline pays homage to one of country’s most beloved ladies. It is appropriate for the season as Sept. 8 was Cline’s birthday. She would have been 82 years young. The performances by the Peterborough Players are a delightful way to remember her in her glory.

 

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