Stages Takes A Sharp Turn With “Always…Patsy Cline”

Zoe Vonder Haar and Jacqueline Petroccia as Louise Seger and Patsy Cline in Stages' presentation of "Always...Patsy Cline." Photo: Peter Wochniak

Zoe Vonder Haar and Jacqueline Petroccia as Louise Seger and Patsy Cline in Stages’ presentation of “Always…Patsy Cline.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

No singing and dancing chorus. No splashy musical numbers with taps ringing through the theatre. Not the usual Stages approach to musicals. Just two great actress/singers pouring out the story of Patsy Cline and her biggest fan, Louise Seger. My reviewer friends and most of the theatre community know I’m not a big fan of country music. But you’ve got to give credit where it’s due and these two actresses play the heck out of this love letter to a career cut way too short by a plane crash.

By my internal “applause-o-meter” trained on the audience and the word on the street about ticket sales, this is one of the biggest successes Stages has had in their long and fruitful run. You would have thought Patsy herself was on the stage as every

Jacqueline Petroccia as Patsy Cline in "Always...Patsy Cline" at Stages-St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Jacqueline Petroccia as Patsy Cline in “Always…Patsy Cline” at Stages-St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak

number was greeted with wild applause and then, of course, even louder applause when the number was over. And that’s a credit to a knock-out performance by Jacqueline Petroccia as the queen of country music. Uncannily, she captures the essence of Patsy’s voice and manner. She has a great blend of poise and naivete as she portrays a woman who must know she has a tremendous talent but is in awe that everyone else seems to think so as well. Still, she’s just that old country girl who finds this over zealous fan while playing a gig in Houston and follows her home to make bacon and eggs and winds up with true friendship. They talk the night away and then, as the show title indicates, they become even closer friends through letter writing (1961, folks- no internet and facebook) and she always closes her letters to Louise with “love always…Patsy Cline.”

While this is Ms. Petroccia’s first work with Stages, we all know and love the local gal filling the boots of Louise Seger, Zoe Vonder Haar. Whether it’s the persistent scheming of Dolly Levi or the bawdiness of Meg in “Brigadoon,” Zoe Vonder Haar has been thrilling St. Louis audiences- particularly at Stages- for several years. This is one of her most exuberant and genuine moments on stage, playing the role of a real person. After “discovering” Patsy Cline on the old Arthur Godfrey show and then bugging the local radio station to play her songs over and over again, she finally gets to meet her and the rest is history. Her wide-eyed innocence and tender feelings for her “idol” come through loud and clear with Vonder Haar’s wonderful performance.

Zoe Vonder Haar as Louise reads a letter from Patsy in Stages' production of "Always...Patsy Cline." Photo: Peter Wochniak

Zoe Vonder Haar as Louise reads a letter from Patsy in Stages’ production of “Always…Patsy Cline.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

Both ladies- especially Zoe Vonder Haar- talk directly to the audience throughout the evening and, in the guise of Louise, she even makes several trips into the audience. At one point she even crawls through one of  the long, long aisles at the Kirkwood theatre to retrieve a willing man to bring on stage and dance with her. It all adds to the “down home” feeling this show engenders and it works well.

Michael Hamilton shows he can bring out the best in a small cast as well as those extravaganzas we’re used to from Stages. His direction and musical staging are top notch. James Wolk’s effective set design features the kitchen and living room of Louise and, behind the scrim at the back, it either lifts to feature Patsy at the Grand Ole Opry and other venues with her music, or is simply back-lit to feature more intimate moments in her performances. Matthew McCarthy provides those great lighting sequences while Lou Bird’s costumes are simply magnificent- particularly the various gowns and country duds for Patsy. It all comes together with the marvelous on stage (behind another scrim that is occasionally lit) band led by Lisa Campbell Albert.

Jacqueline Petroccia as Patsy belts out "Honky Tonk Angels" as Zoe Vonder Haar (as Louise) looks on. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Jacqueline Petroccia as Patsy belts out “Honky Tonk Angels” as Zoe Vonder Haar (as Louise) looks on. Photo: Peter Wochniak

It’s a vast departure for Stages but one that works beautifully. It might encourage them to attempt other smaller cast musicals (such as “The Fantasticks”) in the future. I love the big blockbusters like “Legally Blonde” and “My Fair Lady” that come up later in the summer, but it’s refreshing to see the excellence of Stages’ presentations combined with a more intimate show.

“Always…Patsy Cline” plays at Stages through June 30th. Give them a call at 314-821-2407 to get more information or try to get tickets. They’ve already added an additional performance on Sunday, June 23rd to accommodate the overwhelming popularity of this show.

 

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