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REVIEW: "A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline"

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Some plays and musicals are far from great but have a little something that makes it seem churlish to knock them. Maybe it’s the story, the music, a beloved character. You may struggle to stay with the show and then unexpectedly find yourself tapping your toes along with the music in the second act.

Such an entertainment is A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline, now being staged by Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre at the Freede Little. In this case, what appeals are the pop/country songs of the type that flourished in the middle of the last century.

This show (from 1991) should not be confused with Always . . . Patsy Cline (1988), which has had several productions here and will have another later this season by Pollard Theatre Company. You may be wondering why we have two shows about songstress Patsy Cline (1932-1963) in one season. This isn’t any important anniversary in her life. A theater professional involved with one of the productions told me recently in a burst of candor, it’s because both shows have small casts and are relatively inexpensive to produce. Fair enough.

Closer Walk, by a Canadian named Dean Regan, is more bio-documentary, while Always comes across as a personal story, although in the latter, Cline is practically a secondary character. Both shows benefit from a wealth of music and need an actor who has the ability to play the well-known, widely heard singer.

Julie Johnson has the singing and acting chops to do Cline full justice. As far as I can tell, Johnson does a credible imitation of Cline, whose life and career had triumphs and tragedies and went from playing honky-tonks to Carnegie Hall. Cline aficionados can ring in with their opinions. A Texas-based performer, Johnson has played in several shows here with Lyric Theatre and City Rep. I’d like to see her in more intimate shows like this one where we can see her full range as an actor and singer.       

Closer Walk needs editing. The show’s conceit is we are the audience for a radio broadcast of a tribute to the singer. The disc jockey, known as Little Big Man, narrates Cline’s life story.

Steve Barcus plays the disc jockey and other characters and is the pianist in the onstage, five-piece band. He’s a fine, versatile actor and musician, but he has the unenviable task of playing a bumpkin Grand Ole Opry comic and a grating Las Vegas saloon singer. I doubt you’ll hear a joke you haven’t heard before. It may be possible to make cornball comedy and Don Rickles-like put-down humor seem fresh, but it doesn’t happen in this production.

In addition to playing the title role, Johnson directs the show. The production has a quaint look and sound in the acoustically perfect Freede Little (W. Jerome Stevenson did the sound design). Backdrops represent wide-ranging locations in Cline’s story (Ben Hall, Donald Jordan and Mark Bell are credited with scenic design). As Cline’s career soars, her costumes (by Drenda Lewis and Jeffrey Meek) go from fringy to citified.

You’ll hear Cline hits (“Walkin’ After Midnight,” “Crazy”) and other songs, which may be more-or-less familiar. But I bet Johnson’s at first sultry and then jazzy rendition of “Bill Bailey” will get your toes tapping along with the music.

A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline
Thursday, September 21st, 2017 7:30pm to Sunday, September 24th, 2017 1:30pm
Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre
201 N. Walker Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK 73102
(405) 297-2264
Prices from: $35.00

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Larry Laneer

Larry Laneer has reviewed theater for...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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