NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline, a musical tribute to the late great country
singer, starring local singing sensation Mari (Serpas) Vigueira, has been
packing them into the lovely North Star Theatre in beautiful downtown Mandeville for weeks and will continue its popular run through the Labor Day Weekend. This success is based firmly on the 22 songs presented with country panache by Ms. Vigueira and her band, the Instigators, led by her husband, Ed Vigueira. Virtually every song Patsy Cline recorded in her short career is here, with "Your Cheatin' Heart," " Seven Lonely Days," " Just A Closer Walk With Thee," " Always," " Blue Moon Of Kentucky," " Sweet Dreams," " I Fall To Pieces" and "Crazy" standing out from the list of 22.
As presented by producer/director Lori Taylor, this is a bare-bones musical biography. Ms. Cline's story is told by a country radio disk jockey played by Michael Bennett (who plays three other roles), setting up each song with biographical information-humor comes from Mr. Bennett's "Greater Tuna" cracker-barrel wisecracks and the reproduction of extended commercial jingles of the 50's: Ajax, Mr. Clean, Winston cigarettes, etc. sung with gusto by members of the four piece country band. After Patsy gets herself out of Virginia and into the Grand Ole Opry, Mr. Bennett becomes a stand-up clown-comedian popping off hee-haw humor and carries the same cracked corn (and red-yarn fright wig) one-liners, puns and groaners to Las Vegas and New York continuing the linear delineation of Cline's rocket rise to stardom which was cut tragically short after only five years of national fame by an untimely airplane crash.
One of the unique aspects of playwright Dean Regan's cut-and-paste job is that all the words spoken by the singer/actress playing Cline were actually spoken by Cline herself. These words are mostly patter before or after songs but that is all that is required for Mari Vigueira to etch an indelible and memorable presence. Coupled with her full-throated, powerful voice, laced and filigreed with Cline's signature vocal quirks-she started out as a yodeler-glissades and Willie Nelson nasalities, Ms. Vigueira is a powerhouse ably and sensitively accompanied by the Instigators: Dwight Breland (Pedal Steel/Guitar/Vocals), Jim Breland (Drums, Vocals), Jan Clements (Synthesizer, Vocals) and Ed Vigueira (Bass).
Dennis Hinds' set design is adequate, although cliched, Rick Hayward's lighting is on the flat side, but Becky Yerdon's costumes for Ms. Vigueira trace her rise from country bumpkin to TV star including the rather unflattering wigs which Patsy Cline adopted to hide a forehead scar which resulted from a severe auto accident-one of several physical misfortunes that befell her, including a spell of rheumatic fever she suffered at the age of 13, which might have weakened her heart but also contributed to her vocal power. She is reported to have said, upon recovery, that when she opened her mouth to sing, "out came Kate Smith."
With another theatrical presentation, Always, Patsy Cline (which was produced by the Southern Repertory Theatre last fall starring Diana Boylston), currently playing an open ended run Off-Broadway in New York City, Patsy Cline is enjoying a resurgence of her music 33 years after her untimely death. There has also been a movie of her life, Sweet Dreams, starring Jessica Lange.