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A CurtainUp Phildelphia Review
Always. . .Patsy Cline

I'm worried about the band. I don't know any of the musicians and I wonder if they know my music. Do you?— Patsy

Yes, ma'am, every beat.— Louise
Patsy cline
Jessica Wagner (Photo: Mark Gavin)
Eight miles north, up the Delaware River from the Philadelphia city line is the town of Bristol, PA, home of Bristol Riverside Theatre [BRT]. With their current production of Always. . .Patsy Cline, BRT has broken its advance ticket sales record.

Created by Ted Swindley based in part on Ellis Nassour's biography Honky Tonk Angel, the show has been making the rounds all over the country for 25 years. Susan D. Atkinson, BRT Founding director, directs this small personal story. Not a traditional musical with songs composed for the show, it's a partly narrated, partly acted-out Patsy Cline showcase in a musical theater wrapper, accompanied by a 5-piece band that really knows its stuff.

Jo Twiss, popular with the BRT crowd, plays Louise Seger, a down home Mississippi gal with big red hair. Done up in an aqua shirt, tight purply-pink pants, a big gold belt, and boots, she's a sight to behold. Folksy as can be, Louise reminisces about badgering a radio disk jockey to play Patsy records, and about her family's propitious trip to Texas that led to her encounter with Patsy Cline. Louise's story provides the tidy package for delivering a truckload of songs from the queen of broken hearts.

Jessica Wagner, a Texan transplanted to New York, makes a great Patsy Cline, although she's not "a chunky l'il country girl," as the real Patsy is described in the show. A stylist, and polished performer, she delivers killer renditions of Patsy faves. She can also convey a hint of Elvis. Always a lady, Wagner gets in a real country pop groove, but never goes over the top. It's her control and light touch on the notes that spurs the emotional response in her listeners.

A bit of audience interaction is worked into the show. At one point Louise elicits a dance partner from among the spectators. On her third try, Jim DeCrescente of Warrington, PA consents to join her, and he really cuts the rug.

Sophisticated lighting and set design are by Cory Pattak and ,Adam Koch respectively. Fairly subtle spangly things that could be mistaken for stars catch the light as they hang down over the musicians, lodged upstage behind the expansive set of Louise's kitchen and a mixed use space.

One heck of a cowboy band is integrated into the performance. Musical director and pianist, Ryan Touhey interacts with the actors with his occasional lines. Not a band jobbed in for the production, these skilled musicians on keyboard, pedal steel guitar, bass, guitar, and drums were brought together for the show . . . and they rock.

BRT sits on the bank of the Delaware River. Its big lobby windows provide great views, and this crackerjack regional theater production of Always. . .Patsy Cline is well worth the hike up I95 from Center City.

Always. . .Patsy Cline
Created by Ted Swindley
Directed by Susan D. Atkinson

Cast: Jo Twiss, Jessica Wagner
Scenic Design: Adam Koch
Lighting Design: Cory Pattak
Costume Design: Linda B. Stockton
Sound Design Elizabeth Atkinson
Musical Director: Ryan Touhey
Musicians: Ryan Touhey, Nero Catalano, Bob Gargiullo, Kathy Goff, Neil Nemetz
Jan 27- Feb 22, 2015
2 hours including one 15 minute intermission
Reviewed by Kathryn Osenlund based on 12/29/2015 performance at Bristol Riverside Theatre, Radcliffe Street, Bristol, PA
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