Patsy Cline (played by Cayman Ilika) performs with the Bodacious Bobcats in 'Always ... Patsy Cline.' Superfan Louise Seger (played by Kate Jaeger) is in the foreground at left. Photo by Robert Wade.

‘Always … Patsy Cline’ Is Probably Better from the Front Row

On at Taproot now through April 6, Cline is a fun show with a weak script and lackluster volume and staging.

Patsy Cline has one of those voices that’s so rich, you can just close your eyes, tilt your head back, and let her take it away. Turn it up and you can pretty well soar off to wherever you want to.

Taproot’s current production of the show Always … Patsy Cline, however, is not that. There are some admirable qualities about the production, but a few significant issues get in the way of it being a transformative experience.

First, let’s start with the thing they can’t do anything about: the script (written by Ted Swindley). It’s paper-thin. Not really a play nor a musical, the show is closer to a revue with some talking in between. That’s far from a fatal flaw — I greatly enjoyed ACT’s 2015 production of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well in Paris, for example, which had even less in the script department than this did. (Incidentally, it was also the first time I saw Cayman Ilika, I think, who plays the title role here.) But here the script is so contrived that, at points, it’s just distracting — like when Cline goes straight from shooting whiskey in the living room to singing lullabies in the child’s room of someone she just met. The two-song detour there feels forced, and a detour we’re forced along on for no apparent reason.

All that said — who cares? It’s surmountable.

What’s much harder to overcome are the staging (with direction by Karen Lund) and the volume, both of which are crucial to the show.

 

If you see the show, you’ll probably have a good time, and be happy that Cline left such a rich musical legacy in such a short number of years. It’s just a shame they didn’t let that voice be the stunner it is.

To the volume, that’s easily solved: turn up the mic. The five-piece band — the Bodacious Bobcats Band, who performed wonderfully — was clean, clear, and right-on for volume. They sounded great. Ilika as Cline, however, was either turned way down or not mic’d at all, with the result being she was almost always overwhelmed by the band (which, again, wasn’t particularly loud). When the audience got to clapping along (prodded by the actors), hearing her was pretty well a lost cause.

And that’s a problem. Ilika has a beautiful voice. Let me be clear: there’s only one Patsy Cline, who would be 86 years old at this point and Ilika clearly ain’t her. But Ilika did manage to do a damn good job with Cline’s stunning vocals, and pulled off the look rather well, too. To have her vocals turned down so low was a travesty — and one so easily resolved.

The staging, meanwhile, is not so easily fixed. The fact is, the deep rake of the Isaac Studio Theater just isn’t an appropriate one for this show. Most of it is supposedly set in a highway honky tonk which, no matter how big of one it is, is not going to have Tacoma Dome-style arena seating. This show could be much better set in the main stage theatre which, even with its deep thrust that can be awkward to work with, would be a much better overall arrangement because of its better resemblance to an actual music venue (which often will include balconies along with their floor seating).

Last season, ArtsWest was kind of a game-changer with the way I view staging, and especially shows of this kind. In Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill and Hedwig and the Angry Inch, shown in repertory, ArtsWest converted its wide/shallow thrust theatre into a veritable cabaret, with (faux) candle-lit tables right in front of the stage and interspersed in back. In between were the regular theatre seats, which worked fine, too.

Cayman Ilika (left, as Patsy Cline) and Kate Jaeger (right, as superfan Louise Seger). The creepy coffin-beds are in the background. Photo by Robert Wade.

If Taproot can mimic a music club like that, grand. But really, anything but a steep rake. She’s on a stage — why are we all looking down on her? And also, why are there weird projections on three big backdrops going on at close to eye-level (from somewhere up on the steep rake) that add little to the production?

Alright. If you can get past all of that … This production does have a lot of things going on for it, and it’s all of the hard things.

Ilika is fabulous as Cline. Kate Jaeger makes the most of a fairly sparse role (remember that thin script?) as an adoring fan who made fast and lasting friends with Cline. (Apparently by this point that should be a given, since they’ve played the roles twice together before, but this was my first experience with the show.) The costumes worked well; the band was great; and the stage and lights surrounding them looked good.

It was pretty disorienting, however, to walk back into the theatre from intermission and see a bed that looked an awful lot like a coffin with a blanket draped over it, given that — spoiler alert! — Cline died suddenly, tragically, at a young age and with the sky the limit in her career.

It’s largely the fact of Cline’s tragic, early death that makes this show feel like a piece of keeping her musical legacy alive. And in that role, Always … Patsy Cline serves an important purpose. As a script in its own right, however, it’s a pretty weak one, telling very little about Cline’s life and giving the audience barely a narrative to lean into.

If you see the show, you’ll probably have a good time, and be happy that Cline left such a rich musical legacy in such a short number of years. It’s just a shame they didn’t let that voice be the stunner it is.


Always … Patsy Cline runs through 4/6 at Taproot Theatre’s Isaac Studio in Greenwood. Tickets $35, available here. For showtimes, visit Calendar page. Accessibility notes: restrooms are all multi-stall and gendered; theatre and common areas are wheelchair accessible.

R. Barron reviewed arts behind the scenes (awards, grants, etc.), before writing for Seattle Gay Scene & NWTheatre.org. Passions include theatre, new works, and arts showcasing underrepresented voices.