No doubt real fans of Patsy Cline already know her life story and her rise to fame as one of the first country/pop music cross-over stars. Good thing, because in Dean Regan’s A Closer Walk at Patsy Cline, currently on stage at the Arts Club’s Granville Island Stage, that story is all but lost. Fortunately Sara-Jeanne Hosie gives such a stellar performance, singing from Cline’s rich songbook, that one is almost willing to forgive Regan for that omission.
As the primary reason to see this show, Hosie gives beautiful renditions of both Cline’s classic and lesser known songs. From a beautiful “Faded Love”to the tragic “I Fall to Pieces” and iconic “Crazy”, Hosie is in her element here, hitting Cline’s signature contralto notes with ease.
In Regan’s script, the slight narrative of the show is provided by DJ Little Big Man played by Kevin K James. A DJ from WINC radio in Cline’s hometown in Virginia, Little Big Man provides tiny nuggets about Cline’s life, but is used mostly in setting up the next location for one of the songs being performed. James also plays at a couple rather lame comics that precede Cline’s various concert performances. James tries hard to bring the DJ and these other minor characters to life, but one can only take so many “how [fill in the blank] was he” jokes and ditties about cleaning products.
Since this show is really all about the music, it is hard not to ignore the band accompanying Hosie. These five musicians (musical director and pianist Nico Rhodes, bassist Marisha Devoin, drummer James McRae and guitarists Alan Medcalf and Nathan Tinkham) know their stuff, providing a knock-out sound that is right on the money. But while the band does an incredible job with the tunes, there was little to involve them beyond their jobs as musicians, which seems odd given they are introduced by character names. While playwright Regan and director Shane Snow may not give them any real business, if you ask any performer they’ll probably tell you that the number one rule of a back-up band is to at least pretend to be interested in what’s going on. For goodness sake laugh at the comedian, no matter how lame; some got it but more often than not I got the feeling the band was simply waiting for the next song to start.
Given the concert-like feel of the show and how much of its success hangs on Hosie’s singing abilities, director Snow has little to do other than find some interesting staging for each song or James’ interludes. Atop the piano, seated with a tight spot, high on the back riser, he does a nice job of moving both actors around to keep things interesting. The final number though, following the revelation that Cline has been killed in a tragic plane crash, came across a bit cheesy. While I knew I was supposed to be saddened by the news of Cline’s death and from a heart-wrenching rendition of “Just a Closer Walk With Thee”, I couldn’t help but let out a tiny laugh as Hosie was raised to the heavens.
While this tribute to Patsy Cline may not get Cline neophytes any closer to understanding the woman behind the music and her emotional songs,one thing is for sure: you’ll definitely go crazy for Sara-Jeanne Hosie’s performance.
By Dean Regan. Directed by Shane Snow. An Arts Club Theatre Company production. On stage at the Arts Club Granville Island Stage through July 30, 2011. Visit http://www.artsclub.com for tickets and information.