By Mary Johnson, For The Baltimore Sun
11:37 PM EDT, June 19, 2013
Infinity Theatre Company starts its third season of bringing Broadway-caliber productions to Broadneck Peninsula with "Always … Patsy Cline," a show that may very well top the troupe's offerings to date in its emotional power, conveying the friendship between two women.
From legendary 20th-century music to comedy and dance, Infinity's artistic directors, Anna and Alan Ostroff, have offered first-rate musical entertainment in their past two seasons. Here they present the touching true story of the friendship of singer Patsy Cline and devoted fan Louise Seger that began one night in 1961.
Seger's story became a play written and originally directed by Ted Swindley. The title was inspired by Cline's letters to Louise, signed "Love ALWAYS … Patsy Cline." This musical drama is enhanced by Cline's country music, which has endured much longer than her brief 30-year life.
Maintaining local and New York City ties, the Ostroffs recently announced that last season's critically acclaimed Infinity production of "Dames at Sea" will open in a new version on Broadway in spring 2014, which may qualify as the first Annapolis-to-Broadway show ever. And as a co-producer of the 2013 Tony Award-winning "Pippin" (best revival of a musical), Infinity Theatre Company has now won a Tony, which will be displayed at Children's Theatre of Annapolis.
"Always … Patsy Cline" is directed by New York-based Chan Harris, who paces the continuous action expertly and smoothly. He draws credibility from the gifted Jenny Lee Stern as Cline and brilliant comedian Robin Baxter as Louise Seger. Harris never misses a beat between action and country music.
Returning for his third season with Infinity, scene designer Anshuman Bhatia creates a comfortable environment for Louise's home, complete with kitchen and living room. Upon arrival, audiences feel a sense of comfort viewing the stage. Always visible through the performance, the fixed set allows instant scene changes to take place naturally in various spaces.
Costume designer Kurt Alger creates a wardrobe that reflects Cline's rising success from a singer gaining fame dressed in cowgirl outfits and boots to flattering cocktail dresses and evening gowns. For the character of Louise, the designs reflect an uninhibited fan who flaunts her leopard-print pants that "fit like a glove" paired with flashy tops and sassy cowboy boots.
Above all, this is the story of a loving friendship between women who discover — after becoming acquainted at a Cline concert — that they share in common concerns for their children, ambition, strength and values. After inviting new friend Cline over for bacon and eggs, which ultimately extends to an invitation to spend the night at her house, Louise enthusiastically arranges Cline's morning interview with a local radio host. The friendship continues in mail correspondence until Patsy's death at the height of her popularity at age 30, when she died in a plane crash.
A Broadway veteran, Baxter draws the audience into Louise's honky-tonk world through song, wanders through the audience seeking a dance partner, and soon has the audience laughing at her antics and admiring her bluster and affection for a newfound friend and country music star.
Louise shows some nifty dance steps and creates a fun ride bumping along in her unseen pink and black Pontiac, nicknamed "sexy dude." The character sparkles with Baxter's incandescent energy.
With impressive credits, including two previous portrayals of Cline, Stern delivers so spellbinding a performance that she seems to become the legendary singer. Her voice captivates in the first number, "Honky Tonk Merry Go Round," and becomes more impressive with successive songs "Anytime" and "I Fall to Pieces" — standards that many of us know.
As Act 2 begins, Cline has become more glamorous in a stunning black gown as Stern touches hearts with "Sweet Dreams" and an uncannily authentic rendition of "Crazy" that sounds exactly as many will remember. Stern's spectacular singing is matched by her acting; her tribute to a country music legend is at a multidimensional level rarely seen on any local stage.
Adding to the show's overall excellence is a team of musicians summoning a genuine country band sound in upbeat numbers while providing sensitive accompaniment in the signature classics. Perhaps most moving is the tenderly sung "Sweet Dreams" with music director Tim Rosser's inspired piano accompaniment. The singer-pianist rapport offers syncopated arpeggios that elevate this tune to classic status.
In all, the show has concert status, offering 26 Cline songs.
Infinity's production runs Thursdays through Sundays through June 30 at the CTA Theatre Complex, 1661 Bay Head Road in Annapolis. Order tickets online at InfinityTheatreCompany.com or by phone at 877-501-8499.
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