By Barry Reszel
Imagine an intimate, near-private honky-tonk, 50 seats or so, where patrons come first for a bite to eat and a drink before the evening’s entertainment begins.
The waitress looks vaguely familiar, causing a momentary wracking of the brain until the realization hits: she’s a dead ringer for long-gone country music icon Patsy Cline. Simultaneous to that realization, the lights dim, the magnificent five-man country combo strikes its first chords of the night and Patsy herself appears onstage with a flawless rendition of “Honky Tonk Merry-Go-Round.”
Crazy? Hardly. Because patrons have just entered The Theo Ubique Zone.
It’s here where the lovely and talented Christina Hall doesn’t simply waitress and portray Patsy Cline. She waitresses and becomes Patsy Cline reincarnate in this brilliant two-woman show, Always…Patsy Cline, co-starring two-time Jeff winner Danni Smith as Patsy fanatic/caretaker/narrator Louise Seger.
Directed by Theo’s Artistic Director Fred Anzevino and penned by Ted Swindley, the story follows a Houston housewife’s (Seger) kindly obsession with the emerging country star, first from afar, then in-person through a fortuitous (for both) meeting at a Houston area honky-tonk where Cline was performing in 1961. It was the beginning of a friendship that lasted until Cline’s untimely death in a plane crash two years later. A more complete synopsis may be read here.
Necessary for and perfected in this production is a strong chemistry between the two women. Hall and Smith deliver…and then some. The wonderful Patsy Cline songbook includes hits like “I Fall to Pieces,” “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” Lovesick Blues,” “Crazy,” and about a dozen more, including country/gospel standards like “Bill Bailey” and “How Great Thou Art.”
This show is part story, part concert, part piece of heaven on earth. There really aren’t enough plaudits to give Anzevino and his talented cohorts who constantly deliver Broadway-caliber productions with the best non-Equity talent on a miniscule stage alongside the Rogers Park el tracks. Hall and Smith are backed by a quartet of powerhouse musicians, led by Music Director Aaron Benham on piano, and featuring Cesar Romero (guitars), Scott Simon (drums), Cody Siragusa (bass) and Simeon Tsanev (fiddle). Lighting by Maya Michele Fein is terrific, using the entire house as the performers’ stage. Lovely period costuming by Bill Morey and a wonderful unit set featuring Louise’s kitchen and the Grand Ole Opry stage by Adam Veness add to the magic.
If there’s any disappointment, it’s that patrons only get to hear Smith sing twice in short-but-lovely duets with Hall. Smith’s considerable resume, including recent bring-the-house-down performances as Violet in Bailiwick’s The Wild Party and as Fosca in Theo’s Passion, illustrate her vocal prowess more than this script allows.
But Patsy Cline was a solo act. And for this not-to-be-missed production, the musical stage belongs to Hall, whose stunning performance brings patrons to enter another dimension.
“Always…Patsy Cline” is presented through December 28 by Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre at the No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago. More information and tickets are available by calling 800-595-4849 or online at www.theo-u.org.