It would have been enough for Heather Parrish to come out and deliver a spot-on, genial performance as Patsy Cline.
With a neat wig, big black eyelashes and costumes topped off by a red cowgirl outfit, Parrish looked every bit like the pride of Winchester, Va. And then she opened her mouth.
Parrish has turned the heads of local theatergoers before with performances such as Mary Magdalene in the Lexington Shakespeare Festival’s Jesus Christ Superstar. But she has never had a stage like this or material more suited to her voice than Cline’s big, belty ballads and barn burners.
Give Parrish a couple of hours to sing I Fall to Pieces and You Belong to Me, and you have a great night.
But she is only half of Studio Players’ production of Ted Swindley’s Always … Patsy Cline.
The other half is Melissa Rae Wilkeson as Cline’s biggest fan, Louise Seger. She is what turns this show from a night of music into a night of theater, and Wilkeson’s performance makes the show a hoot and a heartbreaker. She’s also what makes this show a must, even if you aren’t a big Patsy Cline fan.
Imagine if your favorite music act came to town, and you ended up hanging out backstage, getting pulled onstage during the show and going home with them for some late night breakfast and a heart-to-heart. You wound up as BFFs.
That’s the story of Seger, a Houston woman who first saw Cline on Arthur Godfrey’s show and then harassed the disc jockey at a local country radio station into playing Cline constantly. Seger met her idol when Cline came to play a Houston honky-tonk, and they formed a bond that lasted until Cline’s untimely death in a 1963 plane crash.
“She was 30 years old!” Wilkeson’s Louise screams, slamming a kitchen chair into the floor in a moment of pure anguish.
It is a moment born of an hour and 45 minutes of Patsy and Louise bonding over music, motherhood and the mutual heartbreak of failed relationships. The key ingredient to Wilkeson’s performance is a complete lack of self consciousness as she throws herself into delirious fandom, dancing around, telling her story and driving her car, which calls “sexy dude,” to the beat of Rick Hudson’s drums.
The five-person band, led by pianist and music director Jon Grossman, added a tight, authentic sound to the show, and there was essential support in Bob Kinstle’s set design, Craig King’s thoughtful light design and the team of costumers.
But what makes director Tonda-Leah Fields’ production one of the best nights of Lexington theater in recent memory are Parrish and Wilkeson giving career-topping performances in roles that play to their strengths.
They give you more than enough reasons to see this show.