by Lorraine Payette, written May 24, 2016
(Gananoque, ON) It’s time to go out walking after midnight with a brilliant two-person musical based on the life and career of superstar Patsy Cline. As the opening show at the Thousand Islands Playhouse, it promises to be everything her fans could want and more.
Returning to the Playhouse for this production are actress Alison MacDonald as Patsy Cline, musicians David Archibald and Bob Arlidge, costume designer Jayne Christopher, assistant stage manager Michael Barrs, set designer Ross Nichol, and director Daryl Cloran. New to the Springer Theatre stage are actor Tyler Murree as Little Big Man, musicians Dan Charbonneau and Duncan Holt, stage manager Lisa Russell, lighting designer Davida Tkach and sound designer Ben Malone.
The first of the season’s collaborative shows, it is being produced in association with Western Canada Theatre in Kamloops, BC, and comes to Gananoque as an already polished product just waiting to be enjoyed.
“The play is a stroll through the incredible but short life of Miss Patsy Cline,” said musical director and musician David Archibald. “It’s a look at about 20 of her songs including ‘I Fall to Pieces’, ‘Walkin’ After Midnight’, ‘Back in Baby’s Arms’, and so many more. I had thought of her as a country singer, but really, she covers a lot of bases. There’s an Irving Berlin song in the show which is lovely and then there’s a tune that’s reminiscent of ‘Rock Around the Clock’. There’s rock ‘n’ roll there’s country, there’s the American songbook – it’s fantastic.”
Drummer Duncan Holt loves the show. “I’m really just here to play the drums and to enjoy the music – keep the band on the rails, so to speak. I’m loving travelling back in time to do this – it’s a treat to play with all these guys. It’s a total pleasure and real discipline to stick to what was done back in the ‘50s.”
The play has already had a successful run in Kamloops, and the cast is quite comfortable together.
“This is our second time doing ‘A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline’,” said Tyler Murree who plays Little Big Man. “Alison and I were in British Columbia earlier this year, had a great run in Kamloops, and then we took the show to Chilliwack and Burnham, so we’re very familiar with it. It’s kind of a love letter. This DJ is having a Patsy Cline tribute night in 1963 and it’s just him playing all his favourite songs and as he drops the needle on the record, you see her and her band bring the song to life, not just in the recording studio, but they bring in the Grand Ole Oprey and Vegas and Carnegie Hall – really hitting some of the big points in her short career. Then we just get to hear some of her really great songs sung by a brilliant actress and singer, Alison MacDonald. She’s incredible. And every once in awhile I get to throw in a little bit of funny. I think the audiences are really going to enjoy a solid ninety minutes of fantastic music, fantastic singing. We have a terrific band here and it’s the Thousand Islands Playhouse – it comes with the scenery.”
Even though it’s an all new experience for most of the band, they are up to the challenge and pleased with their roles.
“We provide background for Patsy and try to support her and the other actors,” said standing bass player Bob Arlidge. “I’ve been playing the bass since I was a teenager. I have pretty broad taste, and I’m a fan of this music. It’s just fun to do. We’re trying to gel quickly, and provide support for the show. It’s a challenge having to bring it together in so short a time.”
And bring it together they have, with the music flowing smooth and easy.
“My role is to supply some harmony, to support the vocals and supply some rhythm so that she can sing these songs her very best,” said Daniel Charbonneau (guitar and vocals). “She’s doing brilliantly, and every now and then she gives me the nod and it’s time for me to take some lead breaks. It’s been great for me to go back and listen to some of these ‘50s and ‘60s era tunes.
“This was still very much the era of the studio musicians and it was singles acts backed by some of the best musicians in the world. So, to go and listen to these people who can play with subtlety and restraint and then, when it’s time for it, to be able to supply some real fire to these tunes, is a lot of fun. Going back and listening to some of these players, trying to copy some of their ideas – learn them, absorb them – I’ve played country for a long time, up and down the road with all kinds of different country artists, but this is very specific to a certain decade.”
The discipline of recreating the work of a superstar like Patsy Cline is a real challenge for everyone in the show. They are all doing everything they can to make it flawless.
“The sounds have already been documented for decades and decades and now it’s time to supply them and bring them without overdoing it, without walking all over the lead vocal,” said Charbonneau. “There are a number of things I get to do in this sow, and I’m really enjoying it. I’ve had a lot of calls over the years for pop, rock and country, all of which are happening in this show. I feel that the music I’ve been doing for the past decades has put me in a good spot – I don’t have to step too far out of my comfort zone. It’s great. The show has surpassed any expectations that any of us have had.”
But surely the hardest thing of all must be trying to create Patsy Cline herself. The voice, the style, the movements. It must take a lot of hard work as well as incredible talent to pull all of that together.
“It is difficult, but it’s so incredibly fun, too,” said Alison MacDonald, who plays Patsy Cline. “Part of the rehearsal process was building up the endurance to sing all of these songs. It really is a blast getting to yodel and sing some sweet country tunes.
“Before rehearsals started, I did a bunch of research. And with Patsy Cline there is so much material out there to draw from – biographies, websites, you tube videos from various performances, and all of her album recordings. I started with listening to her music (on repeat) and then delved into finding out who she was as a person. Once rehearsals began, then it was truly a team effort creating Patsy. Daryl, our director, really worked on helping me find her energy and being true to who she was; David, our music director, helped with so many of the vocal nuances; and Jayne’s costumes are so true to the period, it’s almost impossible to not feel like Patsy when I put them on. As an actor, I always want to find the truth of a character and that doesn’t change if the person is real or imaginary. With playing a real person, there are just more specific guidelines to follow.”
What should audiences expect when they come to see the show?
“Expect to see an open-hearted, ‘ballsy’, driven woman who loves the stage, singing and really connecting with an audience,” said MacDonald. “She was an amazing woman and it is such a joy/honour to play her. I hope the audience feels like they have been transported back in time. This show has rockin’ tunes, amazing set, lights and costumes and Tyler Muree is hilarious as the Little Big Man – it is a lovely night out.”
“A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline” runs from May 20 – June 11, 2016, at the Springer Theatre, 185 South Street in Gananoque, Ontario. Running time for the play is 1 hour, 40 minutes including intermission. Show times are Tuesday 7:30, Wednesday through Saturday 8:00 pm, with matinees on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 pm (starting the Sunday after opening night). Student matinee is May 26 at 11:00 a.m. and is presented by the TD Bank Group. Tickets are $32 for adults, $30 for seniors age 65+, <30 Club $20. HST is applicable to all ticket prices. For more information, please go to www.1000islandsplayhouse.com or contact the box office at 613-382-7020.