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I Fall to Pieces

Theater Review

In 'Patsy Cline,' the music keeps things going.

April 15, 1999|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Whoo, dogies! It shorely don't take much to whip up a crowd-pleasin' musical. Just put a fetchin' gal in gorgeous get-ups, back her with a toe-tapping band, and have her sing her soulful country heart out. And, of course, throw in a clown. Any country music show worth two poots in a whirlwind has gotta have a clown.

At least, that appears to be Ted Swindley's idea of a winning formula. Swindley is the creator and director of "Always . . . Patsy Cline," a country revue that has toured extensively--including that mecca of down-home glitz, Branson, Mo.--before its present engagement at the La Mirada Theatre.

Swindley takes a strictly low-tech approach to the business of entertaining--and that's not necessarily bad. He simply plants his country band--a capable group led by music director-arranger August Eriksmoen--on the top level of Gary Wissmann's handsome wooden set and has the action swirl around them. If you're a Cline fan--and just about anyone who has ever heard her sing is--it's a warm and fuzzy experience.

It's also insubstantial. Guaranteed to put your brain on hold for an escapist two hours, Swindley's thin-as-sheet-music concept proves a meager excuse for a musical. Based on a "true story," the show concerns the real-life friendship between the legendary Cline (Jessica Welch) and Texas fan Louise Seger (Misty Rowe), who strikes up an acquaintance with Cline at a Dallas engagement in 1961. After the concert, the two women share bacon, eggs and girl talk until the wee hours, then wind up corresponding until Cline's death in a plane crash.

It's a sweet, small tale, an interesting footnote in the arc of Cline's tragically short career--but it certainly doesn't qualify as grand opry.

A series regular on "Hee Haw" for 19 years, Rowe is the requisite clown who narrates the non-events. She brings a nice salty quality to the mix, yet functions more as cheerleader than character, bopping on the sidelines during the musical numbers, waggling her behind at the audience, grabbing volunteers out of the front row to do an impromptu two-step. The yeoman's work falls squarely upon the shoulders of Welch, who, beautifully attired in Richard Odle's costumes, performs more than two dozen Cline favorites in what must be an exhausting set. Impersonating an icon is always problematic. Celebrity carves an indelible image in the public consciousness. Welch is certainly the physical embodiment of Cline--far more so than Jessica Lange in "Sweet Dreams." However, Cline's once-in-a-generation voice is impossible to approximate. Welch makes a heroic effort, most effective in the up-tempo tunes like "Stupid Cupid," but the strain shows in the slower-paced torch songs like "Crazy" and "I Fall to Pieces." There, the absence of Cline's signature slide--that transcendently mellow sound caught midway between a croon and a yodel--is keenly felt.

BE THERE

"Always . . . Patsy Cline," runs Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays-Sundays, 2:30 p.m. through April 25. La Mirada Theatre, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., (562) 944-9801, (714) 994-6310. Tickets are $34. Running time: 2 hours.

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