Theater Review: Firebrand Theatre’s ‘Always… Patsy Cline’ is Crazy Good in Chicago

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CHICAGO – In Ken Burns recent PBS documentary “Country Music,” there was a considerable segment of Episode Four dedicated to singer Patsy Cline. The voice that made the song “Crazy” one of the most played jukebox hits in history is the subject of a current musical revival by Chicago’s Firebrand Theatre. “Always… Patsy Cline” is a tune filled tribute to the country chanteuse, through the eyes of her biggest true life fan. Christina Hall and Harmony France alternate the two roles of Patsy and fan Louise in a run at the Den Theatre in Chicago through January 4th, 2020. Click here for more details and tickets. Comedy/Tragedy Rating: 4.5/5.0
Play Rating: 4.5/5.0

The “jukebox musical” was first presented in 1990, and had an Off-Broadway run in 1997. The simple and at times achingly poignant craft of Firebrand’s interpretation is beautifully staged in a cafe setting, with the two principal performers recreating moments in their relationship through Patsy’s song performances. On the night of the preview, Christina Hall took the role of Patsy and Harmony France was her fan and friend. There was perfect chemistry between the duo and the audience was on their feet by the end, both in tribute to the legacy of Ms. Cline and the way the performers were able to honor her.

Christina Hall in ‘Always… Patsy Cline’
Photo credit: Michael Brosilow for Firebrand Theatre

“Always… Patsy Cline” refers to a letter sign-off from the singer (Hall) to her ardent fan-turned-friend Louise Seger (France), after they met in Houston, Texas. Seger is a country music loving fanatic who is blown away by Patsy’s distinct voice after seeing the singer on the Arthur Godfrey TV show in 1957. When Cline comes to Houston in 1961, the story of the stage play is the story of these two women’s lives as they intersect. The communication between the two is punctuated by Patsy’s songs, accompanied by a live band.

Patsy Cline is one of those legends we sometimes can’t imagine ever existed, her status as an icon is so high. Only 30 years old when she died in a plane crash in 1963, she managed to record certain songs (“Walking After Midnight,” “I Fall to Pieces” and her signature “Crazy”) that have cut through the fog of time and styles to speak to everyone. Christina Hall manages to capture her unique voice, the crystal clarity that guarantees a connection for the listener.

The use of friendship as a fastening thread for the 27 songs in two acts is sheer genius. The motor-mouthed performance of Harmony France as a fanatic Patsy lover introduces the singer (as Patsy acts out moments on Arthur Godfrey and the Grand Old Opry) and deepens as they become friends. The use of the song “Crazy,” for example, is sure to elicit some knowing tears.

Hall as Patsy and Harmony France as Louise in ‘Always… Patsy Cline’
Photo credit: Michael Brosilow for Firebrand Theatre

It’s the powerful chemistry that drives the show even as the story has nowhere to go, two years before Patsy’s demise. The era-appropriate song presentations, both foot-stomping and tear inducing, is also a major star in the show. We all “fall to pieces” remembering the singer, and it’s thrilling to experience Christina Hall (and on alternate nights, Ms. France) bring her back to life.

The Firebrand Theatre of Chicago presents “Always… Patsy Cline” in both evening (Thursday-Saturday, 7:30pm) and matinee (Sunday, 3pm) performances through (EXTENDED!) January 4th, 20120, at the Den Theatre, 1331 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago. Featuring Christina Hall and Harmony France. Written for the stage by Ted Swindley. Musican Direction by Andra Velis Simon. Directed by Brigitte Ditmars. For more information about Firebrand Theatre, click here. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

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© 2019 Patrick McDonald,

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