— Sara-Jeanne Hosie in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline. Photo by David Cooper.
A CLOSER WALK WITH PATSY CLINE
An Arts Club success since its premiere in 1991, Dean Regan’s A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline is a curious theatrical phenomenon. Hardly a play at all, the show is a Patsy Cline concert broken up by a few comedy routines that give the radiant Sara-Jeanne Hosie a chance to rest her voice and change costumes. And with only a couple of exceptions, it’s a concert of country music, not a genre with which you’d expect an urban Vancouver audience to find great favour. Yet the show sells out and the audience cheers—though, based on the night I saw the show, it takes them some time to warm up and most seem bewildered by the corny, unfamiliar country tunes that precede Patsy’s (relatively few) greatest hits. Personally, I don’t get it. But thousands would say the same about my taste in music, and probably in theatre, too.
The standard format for a musical biographical revue like this is a loose chronological narrative frame within which key events in the singer’s life are explained and acted out, the whole structure being a rationale for allowing us to hear the singer perform her songbook. The frame is barely visible here, where a DJ/narrator (Kevin K. James) gives us only the vaguest outlines of Patsy Cline’s life, and none of its dramatic moments other than her early death, at age 30, in a plane crash. The DJ introduces some of her songs, Patsy introduces the rest, but the two characters/actors surprisingly never interact with each other—or even speak to each other—on the stage.
“There was no doubt about it—she was gonna be a star,” announces the DJ at the start of the show, and that pretty much describes the plot. Patsy goes from kid singer to recording star, from performing at her small-town Virginia radio station to headlining at the Grand Ole Opry and Vegas, with nary a bump in the road. Director Shane Snow gives Hosie a microphone, places her downstage of Nico Rhodes’ fine five-piece band, and lets her sing.
James sits in the stage right DJ’s booth, pretending to spin 45 rpm records and providing the minimal patter, except when he comes on to do standup, first as a cornball Opry comic, later as a scuzzball Vegas comic, both routines featuring misogynist jokes which James manages to make funny. The only other interruptions to the concert format are a few nostalgic musical advertisements for Mr. Clean and Ajax, with vocal effects by James, which garner more audience reaction than many of Cline’s more obscure songs.
But this is the Patsy Cline show and Hosie, one of our most underrated musical theatre stars, makes it worth the while. She’s especially adept at the ballads, offering gorgeous renditions of Bob Wills’ “Faded Love,” Irving Berlin’s “Always,” and a torchy “Bill Bailey” that segues into the show’s swingingest number. The song furthest from country gets the evening’s biggest applause. She also offers a nice version of Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” Patsy Cline’s hits “Walkin’ After Midnight” and “I Fall to Pieces” marked the first time a country singer crossed over onto the pop charts, but they don’t really stand out in this production. Not so Cline’s other big hit, Willie Nelson’s great “Crazy,” which ends the show, except for a post-fatality reprise of the spiritual, “A Closer Walk with Thee,” beautifully sung by Hosie, during which Patsy Cline ascends to heaven.
Hosie sells copies of her own CD in the lobby after the show.