Chicago Theatre Review
You Belong to Me
Always…Patsy Cline – Theo Ubique
To paraphrase Jane Austen, it’s a truth universally acknowledged that any production directed by Fred Anzevino, the very talented Artistic Director of Theo Ubique, is going to be magnificent. His latest sensational musical revue paints a loving portrait, both of Patsy Cline and of the profound warmth and comfort found in real friendships. This may be one of Mr. Anzevino’s very best shows, and it’s definitely a must-see. Set in the intimate No Exit Cafe, where an optional, delicious three-course Southern dinner is also available before the show (served by the cast), the audience immediately feels completely at home. When the music begins, audiences melt into cozy, distant memories of a more innocent era. This gentle, kindhearted story, filled with both mirthful and melancholy songs from the late 50’s and early 60’s, is heartfelt and sincerely moving. It’s the musical version of a big, warm hug.
As a pioneer of the early Nashville Sound during the 1960’s, a young singer, christened Virginia Patterson Hensley, took Nashville, the recording world and the Grand Ole Opry by storm. Patsy Cline, as she became known professionally, provided an inspiration for other performers, helping to open the way for women to become headliners in country/western music. Cline’s rich, warm tone and bold, expressive contralto heated up the airwaves, the concert halls and people’s homes via her recordings.
Despite ten years of recording and performing, Patsy Cline rose to fame after being “discovered” by media personality Arthur Godfrey on his CBS television program, “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts.” On that program she sang her now-famous bluesy, “Walkin‘ After Midnight,” and overwhelming audience response prompted Patsy to record the song. It immediately rose to the top of the charts and became her first crossover hit into pop music. Selling millions of records, Ms. Cline was remarkable for having perfect pitch and the fact that she was a self-taught artist who couldn’t read a lick of music. Unfortunately this popular, talented little lady from Virginia was killed in a plane crash in 1963. By that time she’d become the first female solo artist to headline her own show, the first to be billed above her fellow male performers, the first female country singer to perform at Carnegie Hall and the first female singer to be inducted (posthumously) into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Originally premiering in 1988, this musical depicts the real-life story of Patsy Cline’s chance meeting in 1961 with one of her biggest fans, Louise Singer. Ms. Singer had arrived early for the singer’s performance at Houston’s Esquire Ballroom, with both her boyfriend and boss in tow. The ladies met before the show, shared personal stories and bonded as if they’d always known each other. Patsy was even persuaded to spend a homey, comfortable night at Louise’s house instead of at a cheap motel; the next morning, on their way to the airport, Louise even talked Patsy into doing a local radio interview. Their friendship continued over the next two years, until the day when Louise heard the tragic news about her friend’s death on the radio.
The two actress/singers who charmed audiences a few seasons ago in Theo Ubique’s wonderful “Pump Boys and Dinettes,” return in this two-person tribute to Patsy Cline. Christina Hall creates a perfect Patsy Cline. That’s not to say that this talented actress merely “plays” this musical legend; she IS Patsy Cline. From her haunting physical resemblance to the singer, to the way Ms. Hall caresses every lyric and melody, this young performer grabs hold of her audience right from the start. Kicking off the evening with “Honky-Tonk Merry-Go-Round,” Ms. Hall sets the bar high and she never lets down, charming the crowd 23 songs later with her final number, “Bill Bailey,” and ending with two more encores. By the end of the show, you just want to bundle this lady up and take her home with you because she feels like a friend.
What Christina Hall brings to this show musically, Danni Smith, as Louise Singer, overwhelmingly supplies in love, humor and sincere admiration for her singing idol. The chemistry between these two actresses is real and visible. Luckily for audiences Ms. Smith, who is herself a musical star of the highest calibre (seen recently in “The Wild Party” and “Passion”), gets to join Ms. Hall in several of the numbers. However, it’s the honesty and empathy Ms. Smith brings to her portrayal that makes this devoted, caring friend so special. Ms. Smith’s character sees something in her favorite singer that speaks to her heart. Sure, Patsy Cline’s songs and her musicality are a big part of their relationship; but there’s a much deeper link that immediately connects these two women and, in the process, connects the audience, as well.
Filled with so many wonderful songs, such as “Crazy,” “Walkin‘ After Midnight,” “Your Cheatin‘ Heart,” “You Belong to Me,” “True Love” and “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” this biographical musical revue overflows with memorable melodies and is simply irresistible. Played on Adam Veness‘ striking set that skillfully melds the Houston Ballroom with Louise’s kitchen, clothed in Bill Morey’s colorful, authentic costumes, this concert of beautiful songs is guided by Aaron Benham’s musical direction and accompanied by his personable and talented five-member honky-tonk country band. But in the end, what makes this show work is Fred Anzevino’s direction and his decision to allow these particular, accomplished musical actresses to bring Patsy and Louise to life. Audiences will rejoice in the two hours they spend with this talented duo and may even plan a return visit to share with their friends. For that is, after all, what this show is really all about: friendship.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented November 14-December 28 by Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre at the No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 800-595-4849 or by going to www.theo-u.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.