Review: “Always… Patsy Cline” in Santa Rosa

When it comes to jukebox musicals, Always… Patsy Cline may be North Bay theatergoers’ favorite. That’s evidenced by the number of productions put on in the area in recent years. Sonoma Arts Live reprised their 2018 production late last year, and now Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse has mounted a Jared Sakren-directed production that runs through Apr. 30.

The production stars Shannon Rider as Patsy Cline and Liz Jahren as Louise Seger, a Houston housewife who turned a chance encounter with Cline at a Texas honky tonk in 1961 into a pen pal relationship that lasted until Cline’s untimely death in 1963. Both performers have taken a crack at the roles in the past, and the two actually shared the stage for a weekend of performances back in 2008.

Using the framing device of the letters shared between the two and Louise’s reminiscences, the Ted Swindley-created show contains 26 musical numbers including such classics as “Walkin’ After Midnight”, “I Fall to Pieces”, and “Crazy”. Rider, a seasoned singer and actor, delivers the goods as Patsy, and Jahren really works the room as Seger. She regularly interacts with the audience from leading them to join in on communal clapping to dancing in the aisle with an audience member or two.   

An on-stage, six-piece band under the musical direction of Nate Riebli provides the terrific musical accompaniment with Jennifer Barnaba, Steve Cairns, Steve Lassiter, and Anthony Martin providing nice backup vocals as “The Jordanaires”. The bulk of the performance area represents Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry and Houston’s Esquire Ballroom with Louise’s kitchen occupying the left of the stage. It’s a nicely detailed and very functional stage design by Carrie Mullen. Great period costuming by Pamela Johnson adds to the sense of time and place.

What detracts from that sense is the introduction of on-stage advertising to the Playhouse. It’s tough to mentally transport yourself to the Grand Ole Opry in 1961 when a slide show featuring local restaurants and businesses is prominently displayed behind the band. The shout-out to a local country radio station from Louise didn’t help either. In these financially-trying times for all, it’s understandable that theatre companies would seek additional sources of revenue but the obtrusiveness of this approach really takes one out of the world of the show. At the very least, the use of a graphic designer to create ads in the style of the era might help them blend better into the scenery.   

The artists are working too hard to be upstaged by the ads.

‘Always… Patsy Cline’ runs through April 30 in the GK Hardt Theatre at 6th Street Playhouse, 52 W. Sixth Street, Santa Rosa. Thurs-Sat., 7:30pm; Sat-Sun, 2pm. $26–$45. Masking recommended. 707.523.4185.

Photos by Eric Chazankin

This review originally appeared in an edited version in the North Bay Bohemian.

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