Musical revue is my least favorite genre of theater, and that's putting it nicely. But Studio Players revival of its 2009 hit Always ... Patsy Cline won me over with its warm, comical narrative and the sheer talent of its lead performers, who are each cast in roles that boldly highlight their unique vocal and performing talents.
Heather Parrish and Melissa Rae Wilkeson reprise their roles as Patsy Cline, the legendary country star, and Louise Seger, an obsessed fan full of lovable and laugh-inducing Texan eccentricities. The duo's characters strike up a friendship when Cline comes to town to perform, a friendship full of hilarity and heart.
Ted Swindley's script and book is successful at something many musical revues are not — its character-driven story forms the backbone of the production, with musical numbers organically weaving in and out of the narrative arc of Patsy and Louise's unlikely friendship.
If there were a market for Patsy Cline impersonators like there is for Elvis impersonators, Heather Parrish could make a killing. Not only does she resemble and embody Cline's persona in her physical portrayal of the country legend to the point it is almost spooky, she can flat out sing.
At no point during the 27-song retrospective of Cline's now-classic repertoire did Parrish appear to be vocally fatigued or "reaching" for notes. With unfailing stamina, Parrish's delivery is velvet perfection, going big and rowdy in tunes like Your Cheatin' Heart and smooth and spellbinding in heart-piercing ballads like You Belong to Me and Sweet Dreams.
Parrish's Patsy is the main reason you might have to fight to get a ticket to the show, but it is not the only reason.
Wilkeson's command of the stage in her wildly effective comedic portrayal as Louise is a career-highlight performance. Wilkeson is an adept physical comedian. Her facial expressions and bawdy dance moves elicit on-the-spot laughter alone, but her command and delivery of Louise's Texas-accented language feels natural, easy and somehow as authentic as it is exaggerated.
Wilkeson gets the audience cackling, clapping and even singing along, but she also guides them through teary moments, like when she watches as Patsy sings about missing her newborn baby, or when she erupts with doleful rage about Patsy's tragic death in a plane crash.
Together, Parrish and Wilkeson convey a palpable, sisterly bond that gives the show a welcome personal element beyond simply celebrating a beautiful voice silenced too soon.
Music director Jessica Slaton Greene's ensemble, The Bodacious Bobcats, provides the swinging and sultry backing for Parrish' tunes, with Greg Marsee on fiddle, Jacob Hamrick on drums, Thomas Usher on guitar, Ben McWhorter on bass, and Greene herself on piano. Since the band is placed directly on the stage rather than to the side or in a pit, they also function as minor characters.
David Bratcher's lighting design fluidly compliments a set he co-designed with Bob Kinstle and Ross Carter and costuming by Libby Adkins, Jan Kinstle, Sarah Kelley, and Ellen Hellard offers classic country glitz.
'Always ... Patsy Cline'
What: Studio Players' revival of its hit 2009 production of Ted Swindley's musical
When: 8 p.m. July 12, 13, 18-20, 25-27, Aug. 1-3; and 2:30 p.m. July 14, 21, 28, Aug. 4
Where: Carriage House Theatre, 154 W. Bell Ct.
Tickets: $21. Available at (859) 257-4929 or Studioplayers.org.