“Always… Patsy Cline” is a footnote to a country music legend

Carter Calvert and Sally Struthers in “Always … Patsy Cline”
Carter Calvert and Sally Struthers in “Always … Patsy Cline” at Bucks County Playhouse through September 7, 2019. Photo by Joan Marcus

Always…Patsy Cline a welcome entertainment for a summer night at Bucks County Playhouse

Just arrived at The Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania is Always…Patsy Cline, based on a true story and written by Ted Swindley. The show contains over 25 songs made famous by iconic country singer Patsy Cline, portrayed by Carter Calvert, a fine singer who captures the style and inflections of Cline. It also has lots of broad humor, mostly delivered by co-star Sally Struthers. There’s good music, especially for country fans, a load of laughs, and more than a touch of audience participation. They all combine to make Always…Patsy Cline a welcome entertainment for a summer night.

Carter Calvert as Patsy Cline in “Always … Patsy Cline” at Bucks County Playhouse
Carter Calvert as Patsy Cline in “Always … Patsy Cline” at Bucks County Playhouse through September 7, 2019. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Struthers acts as our guide through the show, portraying Dallas housewife Louise Seger, who quickly becomes Cline’s biggest fan after hearing her perform in 1957 on radio’s Grand Ole Opry. In 1961, learning the singer would be appearing at the Esquire Ballroom in Houston, Louise insists on getting there 90 minutes before the show and by chance meets up with Patsy, forming a fast friendship. The friendship lasts with letters exchanged until Cline’s tragic death in a plane crash in 1963.

The show, one of only two approved and licensed by the family of Patsy Cline, relies heavily on Sally Struthers’ broad comedic style for most of the humor. Loud, earthy, and raunchy, Struthers steamrollers through the show as Louise Seger. Struthers throws herself into the character, mugging, doing a bump-and-grind across the stage to represent a car ride, encouraging the audience to clap along with some of the songs, even pulling a gentleman from the audience to come on stage and dance with her.

Carter Calvert, by contrast, appears limited to two things: singing Cline’s hits and reacting to Struthers’ antics. However, her rendition of a lullaby sung to Louise’s son is touching. Director David Galligan seems content with making sure his actresses know their lines and don’t bump into the scenery. Fortunately, Calvert and Struthers’ talents are strong enough to carry the evening.

Sally Struthers as Louise in “Always … Patsy Cline” at Bucks County Playhouse
Sally Struthers as Louise in “Always … Patsy Cline” at Bucks County Playhouse. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Calvert is backed up by a five-piece onstage country-rock band, “The Bobcats”. They are led by music director and pianist John Daniels and feature drummer Roger Cohen (Carter Calvert’s husband), bassist Shane Asserud, Tom Goslin on electric and nylon guitars, and Jay Ansill on fiddle and acoustic guitar. Aside from being good musicians, they also provide some laughs, especially in their interactions with Sally Struthers.

Scenic designer Jeff Perri has created a spacious set which serves as Louise’s kitchen as well as the Esquire Ballroom and other venues where Patsy performed. In creating these locales he is assisted by lighting designer Michael Gilliam and sound designer Philip G. Allen.

Like some jukebox musicals, Always…Patsy Cline does not use the songs to illustrate the characters or move the plot line along. Instead, all the numbers are presented as performance pieces; either Patsy on the radio, in concert, or on records. One would be hard-pressed to figure out how to incorporate the music of Patsy Cline into a conventional book musical. Performed as the songs are here, it makes for an enjoyable occasion.

In Always…Patsy Cline, the singer’s story is one of a woman of exceptional talent, not always recognized at the time, who did not get the touring support she should have from her record label. Patsy Cline is portrayed as a woman with greatness of strength, of heart, and of voice. Her friendship with Louise Seger seems to have helped her through some rocky patches in the last years of her life.

While you might think that, given the subject matter, Always…Patsy Cline would appeal only to country music fans, because of its stars it is a show that will appeal to many. Make the trip to New Hope’s historic Bucks County Playhouse to see Always…Patsy Cline.

Always…Patsy Cline is presented by the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania through September 7, 2019. NOTE: Carter Calvert will be performing a solo concert in place of the evening performance on September 4, 2019. For tickets and information, visit BucksCountyPlayhouse.org..