Always . . . Patsy Cline at The WWII Museum’s Stage Door Canteen, Feb. 23–Mar. 25
[This production returns for weekend performances with Margaret Belton and Caroline Fourmy reprising their roles. Here are excerpts from my review which originally ran in March 2015.]
In the past five years, the WWII Museum’s Stage Door Canteen has put on an impressive number of entertaining shows, all relating in some way to the WWII experience. We’ve had productions saluting Glenn Miller, Bob Hope, and The Andrews Sisters as well as comic musicals set in that era.
When the Canteen announced that they’d be expanding their focus to include post-WWII performers by presenting Always . . . Patsy Cline, I thought “Great!” And musically, with over 20 classic songs, it was a treat. As for the rest of this jukebox bio, it had me madder than a hog in heat.
Always chronicles Cline’s encounter in 1961 with Louise Seger, a fan who arrived early for a concert of hers in Houston. Meeting before the show, the two hit it off and Cline wound up spending the night at Seger’s house. They stayed up all night talking, and did a spot on a local radio show in the morning before Cline headed back to the road. In one of those “truth is stranger than fiction” occurrences, Cline and Seger stayed in touch through an ongoing pen pal relationship until Cline’s tragic death in 1963.
Playwright Ted Swindley’s clichelled script forces Seger into the hoary device of narrator of Cline’s life with the story alternating mechanically with the songs. Each time Cline returns to the stage, at least we see another one of Janice Stephenson’s stylish, period-appropriate costumes.
This might have been okay if we had gotten a true portrait of Cline who was said to cultivate a brash and gruff exterior as “one of the boys.”(Singer George Riddle said of her, “It wasn’t unusual for her to sit down and have a beer and tell a joke, and she’d never be offended at the guys’ jokes either, because most of the time she’d tell a joke dirtier than you! Patsy was full of life.”) Rather, the one-dimensional image we get of Cline in Always, never much deeper than actual photos of her that adorn the stage, would not be out of place at a tea party with Mamie Eisenhower. (Apparently, Always … Patsy Cline along with A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline are the only plays approved by the Patsy Cline Estate.)
Seger is given a little bit more material to play with (redneck-y husband included) but Director Victoria Reed has Caroline Fourmy play her sooo broadly that she comes off as less a real person than a wind-up mechanical doll you’d find in the gift shop at Opryland.
As Cline, Margaret Belton, who has played the role before, certainly looks the part and captures the essence of Cline’s voice while understandably not attempting an exact imitation of her. Crazy, Cline’s biggest hit, stood out for being nicely underplayed. On their own terms, Belton and Fourmy work well together creating a believable bond between these two women.
David Raphael’s elaborate set, encompasses Seger’s kitchen (her stove amusingly turns into a jukebox), a bar area, and the Grand Ole Opry stage where the Bodacious Bobcats Band plays with gusto.
Reed keeps Always going at a briskly-paced 90 minutes though I wouldn’t have minded a longer playing time if it had meant we’d have gotten to know Patsy and Louise a bit better. Still, it was clear that the sold-out audience enjoyed it mightily; as we were exiting, one person was heard to exclaim “That was a great show!”
[On Wednesday afternoons from March 7 through June 27, the Stage Door Canteen presents The Best of Sinatra, a salute to Ol’ Blue Eyes featuring the “adorable and charming” Spencer Racca. Backed by the Victory Three Trio, he’ll be singing such classic hits of Frank’s as Fly Me to the Moon, All of Me, Come Fly with Me, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, My Way, and New York, New York.]
With Mardi Gras now over, theater should be moving from the streets back to local stages. Here are some upcoming shows that will hopefully prove as entertaining as Carnival.
If you’re still eager to laugh–and who isn’t these days–head to Café Istanbul (2372 St. Claude) for Ryan Landry’s 5 TO 9. Based on the classic lm 9 to 5, 5 TO 9 is the story of three of Trump’s overworked secretaries and how they end up getting even.
Varla Jean Merman and Peaches Christ star as Dora Lee (Dolly Parton’s role) and Judy (Jane Fonda’s role) while Landry takes on Violet (the Lily Tomlin role). 5 TO 9 also features Penny
Champayne and Larry Coen as Kellyanne Conway and Trump. It plays February 23 through March 17, and promises “ridiculous, silly, nonstop fun.” But of the type where “No one under Age 18 will be admitted!”
Anyone under age 18 who is admitted to Blame It On Bianca Del Rio at the Orpheum Theater on March 3 should grow up to be fabulous and opinionated and, hopefully, maybe even President of the United States.
Press materials state: “In Blame It On Bianca Del Rio, Bianca shares her opinions loudly and proudly, offering raucous, hilarious, no-holds barred commentary on the everyday annoyances, big and small, that color her world, and make it a living, albeit amusing, hell for anyone who inhabits it. A collection of biting advice filled with vibrant photos from Bianca’s twisted universe, Blame It On Bianca Del Rio will shock you and keep you laughing. But be warned: it is not for the faint of heart!”
While Bianca would probably roll her eyes at such a description (Her response to “Vibrant photos”? Most likely “Who comes up with this sh*t?”), you get the idea.
On a more serious note, The Radical Buffoon(s) presents The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter, whose works we see too rarely here, at the Fortress of Lushington (2215 Burgundy St., March 1-17).
Directed by Jon Greene and starring James Bartelle and Clint Johnson, this stealthy one-act starts simply. Two hit men await their instructions in an undisclosed and windowless basement. Soon enough, though, a series of odd circumstances catapult their claustrophobic limbo into an absurd comedy of nerves, uncertainty, and ambiguity.
Making things even more uncertain in this production will be that each night the two actors will take the stage, solicit a coin from an audience member, and give it a flip to decide who will play whom. Whose fate will be cruel and whose will be wonderful? Maybe you’ll have to see this Waiter twice. And bring a loaded coin.
As of press time, I was uncertain about the details of Le Petit’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire, March 9-25, but, as Tennessee Williams’ works are seen with a clockwork regularity here, I hope some chances will be taken with this classic as had been done with a German production of The Glass Menagerie which was modernized and daringly, and successfully, reset in a trailer park.
With the Anthony Bean Community Theater on hiatus as it awaits its new home to open, works about the African-American experience, broadly defined, have not been seen as regularly in New Orleans as in the past. By sheer happenstance of the scheduling gods, three such shows will be appearing here soon.
Director John Doyle’s daringly reconceptualized and Tony Award-winning revival of The Color Purple plays at the Saenger Theatre February 2025. Cast members from Broadway, including Adrianna Hicks (Celie), Carla R. Stewart (Shug Avery) and Carrie Compere (So a) lead the touring company of this musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
New Orleans Opera gives the hometown premiere to Champion, native son Terence Blanchard’s “opera in jazz” about boxer Emile Griffith, at the Mahalia Jackson Theater on March 9 and 11.
Griffith, the gay three-time World Welterweight Champion from St. Lucia, is best known for defeating Benny “The Kid” Paret in 1962 with a knockout that tragically lead to Paret’s death. Champion’s librettist Michael Cristofer, who received the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for Best Play for The Shadow Box, says “Champion is the story of courage in the face of sexual oppression, of love in the face of hate, of grace in the face of physical and mental decline. It’s the story of a man struggling to make peace with himself and to find his place in the world… as a fighter and a gay man.”
The Wiz may not be the most accurate portrayal of the African-American experience but, hey, I did say “broadly defined.” This Tony winner will be presented by See ‘Em On Stage: A Production Company and Delgado Community College’s Drama Department at Delgado’s Timothy K. Baker Theatre March 9-25.
Christopher Bentivegna directs a cast of actors mostly unfamiliar to me but I’m already looking forward to seeing two outrageously talented performers, Whitney Mixon as Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West, and Rahim Glaspy as The Wiz himself.
While one could argue that the female experience regularly gets exposure on local stages, in these days of #MeToo, a five-day festival of dance, theater, and performance that makes space for femme and female-identified artists, creates a platform for women-centered stories, and gathers our community for creative conversations, is most certainly welcome. Definitive Figures: A FemFest of Performance happens February 28 through March 4 with shows and community events taking place at Catapult, the Music Box Village, and the AllWays Lounge in the Marigny and Bywater areas.
The core of the festival is made up of dance or movement-based works by choreographers Jarrell Hamilton, Maritza Mercado-Narcisse, and Shannon Stewart, and a movement-performance duet by Donna Costello and Jenny Sargent. Other shorter performances include music by Aurora Nealand and “Spirit & Sparrow,” theater by Lisa Shattuck & Jeff Becker, comedy by the troupe Black Girl Giggles, and performance art by Madison Krekel. There will be opening and closing parties, a “performative” panel discussion on “The Body, Persona, and Identity,” and a DJ’d dance party. More information about the festival and a full schedule is available at definitivefigures.wordpress.com.
One of Broadway’s first ladies, Melissa Errico, will make her New Orleans debut on March 1 with a special Broadway @ NOCCA concert Sondheim & More at Lupin Hall, which will benefit TheNOCCAInstitute. She will be joined on stage by special guest Bryan Batt of Mad Men and Hazelnut fame.
The New York Times recently raved about Errico’s Sondheim concert, “She sings beautifully. Her familiarity with the way the songs work to advance character and story in vivo naturally informs her in vitro style, which is actorly to begin with. An attention to the lyrics and their rush of harsh ‘wisdoms’ was Ms. Errico’s keynote. She refreshed cabaret staples, and lightly jazzed others, demonstrating how the meaning that is locked in tiny verbal gestures can be released with bold phrasing.”
With classics from Into the Woods, Follies, Sweeney Todd, Anyone Can Whistle, Company, A Little Night Music, and songs from shows this Tony nominee has starred in, if you’re a Sondheim or Broadway fan you’ll not want to miss Melissa Errico’s concert benefitting such a worthy cause.
Another benefit is coming up March 5 to help raise funds for Prescription Joy (Rx Joy), a new organization dedicated to bringing Medical Clowning to the New Orleans area and beyond. Medical Clowning uses humor and human connection to aid in healing patients, families, and even staff members.
Becca Chapman and Alex Smith, two fine NOLA actors and co-founders of Prescription Joy, headline the benefit; other local clowns scheduled to appear include Darci Fulcher, Owen Ever, & Glenna Broderick, along with musical performances by Rebecca Leigh, and Caroline Fourmy. There’ll be carnival style games as well such as Cornhole with actual husks of corn, a Thumb Wrestling Station, and “Reverse Pinata.” where you have to rebuild and refill a pinata while blindfolded!
All this and more will take place at the Fortress Of Lushington. After the (over)indulgences of Mardi Gras, some gentle Medical Clowning might be just what the doctor ordered.