'Patsy Cline' opens Manatee Players black box

Great songs highlight show about the country legend

mclear@bradenton.comSeptember 21, 2013 

Alana Opie stars as Patsy Cline in the Manatee Players production through Oct. 6. PHOTO PROVIDED

PICASA

"Always … Patsy Cline" is an unexceptional show, but it's opening at the Manatee Performing Arts Center was something special. Director Preston Boyd even called it "historic."

It was the first Manatee Players show at the Bradenton Kiwianis Studio Theatre, the black box space adjacent to the much larger Stone Hall.

The space itself is comfortable, with great acoustics and better technical possibilities than a lot of other theaters of its size.

That was almost expected, given the grandeur and technical excellence of the center, which opened earlier this year.

Some frequent Manatee Players visitors wondered if two shows going on at the same time -- "Grease" is running in Stone Hall, and both shows have the same curtain time -- might pose problems. It's the first time in Manatee Players' history that the company has staged two shows in the same building simultaneously.

Problems were almost nonexistent. Outside, figuring out which ticket window to go to was a bit confusing, but ushers were careful to make sure no one mistakenly entered the wrong theater. And even though "Grease" can at times be a loud show, the sound did not bleed through the walls and interfere with "Always … Patsy Cline."

The Cline show is a pleasant little piece that purports to be the story about a Texas housewife and Patsy Cline fan who met Cline in a nightclub ("kind of like Joyland," the housewife says, in one of several annoying additions to the script) and becomes her lifelong friend.

It's a cool story, and it's true. But it takes about 10 minutes to tell. "Always … Patsy Cline" is two hours long.

The bulk of the show is Patsy, played here by Alana Opie, singing songs.

Opie's really great, evoking Patsy Cline without resorting to imitation. Her voice is suitably close to Cline's, and she adds a few patented Patsy vocal touches that let you know she's portraying her character.

The show works best, of course, when the songs are great, and there are plenty of great songs in Cline's catalog. A couple of good songs not usually associated with Cline are also included.

Seger, the only other character in the show is played by Brittney Klepper. Her performance is generally a lot of fun, but her hyperactivity sometimes grows tiresome, especially when you've just immersed yourself in a couple of heartbreaking Patsy Cline ballads.

A five-piece on stage band (director Preston Boyd on guitar, plus musical director Seth Wertz on piano, Skip Ellis on pedal steel, Nick Spagnuolo on electric bass and Paul Henry on drums) provides tasty accompaniment.

But the show is strictly for Patsy Cline fans. Except for the story of that one night when she and Seger met, we don't learn anything new about Cline, her life or her career. We hear nothing about her two car accidents, her turbulent marriages, or her chidlren. We learn nothing about her childhood or how she became a star. There's actually no story, just an extended, mildly interesting anecdote that punctuates a very good Patsy Cline tribute concert.

Details: Through Oct 6, Bradenton Kiwanis Studio Theater at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave, W., Bradenton. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $26 general, $15 for teachers, $13 for students. Information: 941-748-5875, www.manateeplayers.com.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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