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Stage Preview: Mountain Playhouse's 'Always' opens season on a high note

Tuesday, June 11, 2002

By John Hayes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

If you're looking for a detailed account of the life and times of country music darling Patsy Cline, the A&E channel probably has a "Biography" show for you. "Always ... Patsy Cline" is Ted Swindley's clever tribute to Cline's music, told through the story of an actual fan, Houston housewife Louise Seger, who in 1961 had a close encounter with the star. Seger and Cline remained pen pals until the singer's death in a 1963 plane crash.

Mimi Bessette plays Patsy Cline in the return engagement of "Always . . Patsy Cline" at the Mountain Playhouse.

Mountain Playhouse, after closing its 2001 season with a sold-out production of the show, has opened this summer's schedule with a reprise that's getting the same kind of standing ovations. It's no wonder. On- and off-Broadway veteran Mimi Bessette is wonderful as Cline, New York theater regular Mary Ehlinger is hilarious as Cline's most devoted fan, and the house band tears through some good, old-fashioned country music.

Swindley's script documents more details of the fan's life than of Cline's, but it subtly suggests the loneliness the singer felt in being separated from her family while on the road. Director Chan Harris offers a road-weary, backstage view of the performing life, opening with the band in Western duds and hanging around the set, gulping beer. The uni-set blends the bandstand, stage, kitchen and special performance spaces.

"Always ... Patsy Cline"

dot.gifWhere: Mountain Playhouse, Route 985, Jennerstown.

dot.gifWhen: 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; also 2 p.m. Wednesday and Friday; 3 p.m. Sunday.

dot.gifTickets: $14 to $28; 814-629-9201.


Bessette is smart enough to steer clear of impersonation, acting and singing, instead, in her own powerful and convincing voice and style. And she's talented enough as an actor to seize the moment. Stepping up to the microphone at the start of a Sunday matinee, Bessette slipped on the slick stage and landed squarely on her back. Without skipping a beat, she worked the unintended pratfall into the performance as Cline would have with a self-deprecating joke that instantly bonded her with the crowd.

Ehlinger is a whirlwind of comic activity, showing off Seger's red, red neck and big, big heart. Reprising the roles they played last year, she and Bessette work together as if the show has been running all year.

With a 30-song repertoire, "Always ... Patsy Cline" is almost more of a concert than a play. The Bodacious Bobcats -- Terry "Joe Bob" Osman, Robert "Jim Bob" Crafton, Doug "Billy Bob" Wilkin, Nathan "Jay Bob" Santos, Elizabeth "Ray Bob" Pile and Mark "Bob Bob" Weakland -- carry the music beyond the written score, giving it the Texas swing that the songs deserve. The band interacts with the actors and Weakland has fun with a few lines.

Mountain Playhouse's 2002 summer season ends in October on another musical note, with the Frank Sinatra tribute "My Way" (Oct. 2-13). Highlights of the season include "Red Herring" (June 18-July 30) with company stalwart Tom Schaller reprising his comic detective role from last year's City Theatre production. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn" (Aug. 6-18), a world premiere commissioned by Mountain Playhouse, offers a no-whitewash adaptation of the two Mark Twain classics. "Caught in the Net" (Aug. 20-Sept. 1) is Ray Clooney's sequel to his comedy "Run for Your Wife," and with "The Gin Game" (Sept. 4-15), Mountain Playhouse continues its effort to break through its own bad-language barrier.

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