Reviewed by Suzanne Angeo (Member, American Theatre Critics Association)
and Greg Angeo (Member Emeritus, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle)
Photos courtesy of Sean Carter Photography
A Very Entertaining “Walk”
“A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline” is one of only two musical biography stage presentations about the much-celebrated singer that has been approved by her estate. Created in 1991 by Canadian composer, playwright and director Dean Regan, the show sold out all over Canada before taking the US by storm. It’s been performed hundreds of times in North America, and now is appearing for the first time at Meadow Brook Theatre to enthusiastic audiences, closing out the 2021-2022 season.
Cline’s unique vocal quality and style set her apart from her peers in country music. Her rich contralto voice and deeply emotional delivery made her not just a powerhouse singer, but an unequalled storyteller. She quickly crossed over into pop and contemporary music, often appearing at the top of multiple charts with a single song. Her career was cut tragically short by an airplane crash that only seemed to add to her legend. In the nearly 60 years since her death, her hit song “Crazy”, written by Willie Nelson, remains the most-played jukebox song in the US, and her albums continue to sell by the millions.
Set in March 1963, a day before that fateful plane crash, the show unfolds around a local DJ known as Little Big Man on radio WINC, in Cline’s hometown of Winchester, Virginia. Four actors double as radio station singers doing campy commercials for Ajax, and as Cline’s backup singers in the recording studio and on the road, a quartet called The Jordanaires. We are taken on a musical journey, song by song, through her life and career.
Broadway veteran Felicia Finley, in her MBT debut, has some pretty big shoes to fill, whether they be cowboy boots or stilettos, and fill them she does. This incredibly gifted singer, dancer and actress makes “A Closer Walk” well worth seeing. As Cline, she does fancy footwork and merry jigs while singing some of the most difficult numbers, and in high heels! While it must be said that no one can sing like Patsy Cline except Patsy Cline, Finley comes pretty darn close. During a recent matinee performance, Finley seemed to be holding back at first, and didn’t quite capture Cline’s signature emotional intensity, but in the second half of the show, she blew the roof off the place with songs like “Sweet Dreams”, “I Fall to Pieces” and her most enduring hit “Crazy”.
The Jordanaires, played by Geoffrey Besser, Tyler Bolda, Sam VanKampen and Mikey Vultaggio, deliver amazing vocals and superb late-1950s dance moves in numbers like “Stop, Look and Listen”. MBT veteran Chip DuFord as Little Big Man has just the right combination of sincerity, zaniness and country cornball clowning to spice things up. Of course, “A Closer Walk” is all about the music, and the six-piece band is nothing short of sensational under the guidance of conductor Zachary Ryan, performing more than two dozen classic songs from Cline’s country, rock and pop canons.
As the show’s director, MBT Artistic Director Travis Walter deserves a special brand of kudos for his outstanding staging, choreography and movement that keeps the show in high spirits from beginning to end. Lighting (Neil Koivu), Sound Design (Mike Duncan) and Costume Design (Liz Goodall) help set the stage for a trip back to a pivotal time in music history.
Even if you’re not a country music fan, “A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline” is a lively, high-energy show that will appeal to anyone who likes music, comedy, great dancing and poignant storytelling.
Now through June 19, 2022
Tickets $36 to $46
Meadow Brook Theatre at Wilson Hall
378 Meadow Brook Rd
Rochester Hills, MI 48309
A special note: As Covid-19 is a constantly changing situation, MBT will be monitoring and adhering to the guidance given by the CDC, the State of Michigan, the Actor’s Equity Association, and Oakland University. Check the Meadow Brook Theatre website at www.mbtheatre.com for the latest information on efforts to keep everyone safe.
Meadow Brook Theatre’s season is supported in part by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kresge Foundation, the Fred and Barbara Erb Family Foundation, the Shubert Foundation and the Meadow Brook Theatre Guild.