The Sagebrush Theatre saw the opening of Western Canada Theatre’s production of A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline this past weekend.
The set includes three larger-than-life, domineering transistor radios that act as walls on one side of the stage, and a tall radio booth, complete with an “On Air” illuminated sign, on the other. Despite these eye-catching set pieces, an audience’s attention is nevertheless drawn to centre stage, where a four-piece band is set up, and remains throughout the entire play.
The band is made up of musicians almost exclusively from Kamloops, with Richard Graham on percussion, Michael Turner on standup bass and Kris Ruston on bass and guitar (both electric and steel pedal). Music director David Archibald is the only non-local in the band, coming all the way from Newburgh, Ont. to play guitar, banjo and keys.
The play itself is the least play-like production Western Canada Theatre has put on this season. It lacks a plot and any real storyline, instead focusing on being a musical tribute punctuated with tidbits from Cline’s life. Not knowing much about the country singer’s career going in, I do not feel that I gained any more significant insight into her life by the time I left the theatre.
Patsy Cline is played by Alison MacDonald. MacDonald has a beautiful voice that is well-suited to country music. Of course, Cline was such a big star for a reason, and therefore it is difficult to perfectly imitate her unique and strong voice. Nevertheless, MacDonald gives a wonderful tribute to some of Cline’s most famous ballads, including I Fall to Pieces, Crazy and Just a Closer Walk With Thee.
A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline is a two-person show, not including the band. MacDonald’s co-actor is Tyler Murree, who plays Little Big Man, the radio talk show host who narrates the play. Murree also plays the host of Grand Ole Opry, Carnegie Hall and a Vegas theatre. An actor in this role must be able to adapt his style to various different personas, and Murree is able to fill those shoes energetically.
The play is formatted in a radio show style, complete with the weather, news and sports as well as various commercials. The tragic news of Cline’s plane going down is delivered in a “this just in” news bulletin that allows the audience to feel an abrupt shock similar to that which must have swept over radio listeners on March 3, 1963.
The play is tied up quickly after the news of Cline’s death, but it is not without a final reverent reprise of Just a Closer Walk With Thee sung by MacDonald clothed in a white dress. It is emotional yet peaceful, and gives audience members a sense of closure as they leave the theatre.
Tickets for A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline are available at the Kamloops Live! Box Office or at kamloopslive.ca. The show runs until March 5 at the Sagebrush Theatre, after which it will head to Vernon; Chilliwack and Gananoque, Ont.