A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline is an intimate “Patsy Cline” concert. Between a lavish succession of Patsy Cline signature tunes gloriously sung by Melissa Leventhal, we undergo alternately silly and sentimental narration by David Wysocki, who helps establish the times and locations of Patsy’s life, while allowing Leventhal to rest her voice and change costumes.
This is not Lanie Robertson’s Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill. This is not Peter Quilter’s End of the Rainbow. This is not Pam Gems’ Piaf. This is not Siân Phillips as Marlene. Don’t expect deep insights or illuminating disclosures. Just enjoy the music. And when Patsy -- that is to say Melissa -- is not on stage, don't fret. She'll be back soon.
Assessing this comforting show by Dean Regan is as easy as sitting back and watching. Wysocki does his best to land his material and get out of the way, in a most dutiful performance. Leventhal delivers the goods with a selection of Patsy Cline tunes that run the gamut from “Stop, Look and Listen” to “Crazy.” Director Drew McCabe keeps transitions quick and the stage pictures varied.
The presence of Mr. Wysocki and a live country band prevent us from calling this a one-person show. Wysocki is called upon to portray a variety of character types, including a country radio DJ, a Vegas standup comic; and a standup comic at the Grand ole Opry. Actually, the entire performance is a kind of standup, except when he’s pulling at our heartstrings. (Spoiler alert … Patsy dies).
Leventhal’s emotive voice is best suited to Cline’s slower material, giving her a great advantage as the show progresses into tunes that need a tear in the voice, like “Sweet Dreams,” Irving Berlin’s “Always,” and the luscious hymn, “A Closer Walk with Thee.” That last tune both provides the show with its title and allows Leventhal to showcase her money notes. In up-tempo numbers, she suggests the supple yodel and growl of Cline’s voice without approximating an impersonation.
In preparing for the role, Leventhal says that she felt liberated to realize that Cline’s song interpretations varied widely between her recordings and her concert performances. This allowed the actress the latitude to meld the Cline voice and persona into her own, which she does very effectively.
The numerous costumes are handsomely designed by Smirna Mercedes, who uses the clothes to reflect the upward progression of Cline’s brief but historic career.
Music direction by Joe Isgar gives the show a true country sound and an irresistible jolt of vitality.
Few performers (all of whom have shows about them) inspire the adoration of Patsy Cline fans. At the performance I attended, every song became a duet between Leventhal and the Patsy Cline fan seated beside me. I kind of enjoyed that, and firmly think that there were moments when the lady allowed herself to believe that she was seeing the real Patsy Cline.
A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline continues Friday & Saturday at 8, and Sunday at 2 through December 8th at Shea’s Smith Theatre.