Two dynamic women and a fine band make “Always … Patsy Cline” an upbeat show of comedy and song. Kitty Balay, in the title role, sings 26 songs, and Suzy Newman, as her friend Louise, narrates the story of their friendship with manic humor.
The play/tribute by Ted Swindley is based on the true friendship of the popular singer and one of her fans, Houston housewife Louise Seger. The title comes from Cline’s signature at the end of her letters to Louise during their correspondence, which was tragically cut short by Cline’s death at age 30 in a 1963 plane crash.
But this story is not a sad one. Directed by Melissa Rain Anderson, it is warm and humorous. Balay is terrific. Cline started out as a country singer and later added pop to her repertoire, so the songs range from love songs like “You Belong to Me” and “True Love,” to country tunes such as “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” and from torch songs like “Lovesick Blues” to traditional pieces like “How Great Thou Art.”
As she sings the many familiar songs, from up-tempo honky-tonk to mournful torch songs, she can belt, growl, wail and hit the high notes. And between the songs she gives Patsy a sweet, cute persona.
As Louise, Newman is just as good, telling her story to the audience in the theater in the round with comic enthusiasm. She describes her fanatic calls to the local radio station to play Patsy Cline songs, and she tells how she met Patsy when she drove her pink and gold Cadillac, named “Sexy Dude,” to the Esquire Ballroom.
She’s funny as she uses country colloquialisms and comical body language. She interacts, shakes hands with people, and during two numbers she drew someone from the audience to dance with her — one a gentleman of a certain age, the other a preteen boy. They both did well and got a big hand. She also encourages the audience to sing once in a while and to clap in time to a couple of lively songs.
The set is a country-style stage at the back of the theater space, where the swinging band fuels the songs. Jonathan Swoboda is on piano, Bette Byers on violin, John Clark on steel pedal guitar, Josh Collins on guitar, Michael Dias on bass and Sean Collins on drums. Swoboda is musical director.
The only other set piece is a small kitchen table where Patsy and Louise briefly discuss their lives and their problems over coffee, with each conversation leading into a song about men, love and loss.
DeAnne Kennedy is scenic designer. Jeni Schafer designed Patsy’s costumes, which go from cowgirl fringes and boots to a nightshirt to sequined gowns and purple spike heels.
The audience’s enthusiasm built as the show went on, and after a standing ovation, Balay sang a couple of encores. The show will continue at the intimate Severson Theatre through Aug. 31, then move to the outdoor Solvang Festival Theater on Sept. 6.
IF YOU GO
"Always ... Pasty Cline"
7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 1:30 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays, through Aug. 31
Severson Theatre, Allan Hancock College, Santa Maria
$15.50 to $32.50
8 p.m. daily Sept. 6 through 15, except Sept. 9
Solvang Festival Theatre, 420 Second St., Solvang
$20.50 to $42
922-8313 or www.pcpa.org