A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline is more a concert than a piece of theater. Its nearly two-hour run time (intermission included) consists almost entirely of songs by the titular singer, performed by Laurie Finnegan. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s very good. A Closer Walk is a well-polished piece suited for a city larger than ours; it will blow the dust off your sense of nostalgia and leave you with a bittersweet glow.
The year is 1963 and WINC, a Virginia radio station, is running a tribute to the still-living Patsy Cline. On the left side of the stage sits a radio booth helmed by a Southern-twanged host, who’s played perfectly by William Lang. Lang’s job is to introduce most numbers (there are two dozen of them) with a snippet of Cline’s biography, setting the time and place she performed each hit. He also provides the audience with the occasional news bulletin to keep the mood planted in the early ’60s.
A janitor-themed barbershop quartet is formed from Ron Bronitsky, Michael Finnegan (he’s married to Laurie Finnegan), Tim MacAlpine and Patrick Alan Robinson. The four harmoniously bust out radio commercials for such products as Mr. Clean and Ajax. They also serve as Laurie Finnegan’s backup, trading in their gray jumpsuits for bolo ties.
And the rest of the show is pure singing, punctuated with introductions by Finnegan, who has also mastered a very convincing Virginian accent. She performs on a large, tiered stage framed by a giant, illuminated archway and populated by a seven-piece orchestra.
No one in the cast is new to theater, and it shows. Finnegan’s trained voice digs into the soul of Cline’s hits with grace; at moments it’s easy to forget you aren’t watching the original songstress herself. Her backup singers do a lovely job as well, imbuing the show with old-timey flair. And Lang, who also makes the sporadic appearance as a standup act opening for some of Cline’s shows, nails his lines effortlessly and with considerable comic timing. He’s a joy to watch.
The audience was made up of people who not only love Patsy Cline’s music but well recall the days she was climbing the charts and performing at Carnegie Hall.
But the best part of the show, perhaps, is the audience. On opening night, Rodey’s seats were flooded by a sea of gray and white hair. As my date for the night, the inimitable Ms. Erin Adair-Hodges (former Alibi Arts and Lit Editor), commented, “If you didn’t grow up drinking Ovaltine, bring someone who did.”
The audience was made up of people who not only love Patsy Cline’s music but well recall the days she was climbing the charts and performing at Carnegie Hall. They came to remember. And boy, did they relish in the memory. Heads bobbed in time to the music, people were inspired to clap along to some tunes and there were even a couple mid-song standing ovations (by single audience members, mind you). A man sitting a few rows in front of us would raise his right hand and gently wave it back and forth to his favorite songs—I kept expecting him to spark a lighter. The memories and plucked heartstrings were palpable.
If you love Patsy Cline, go see this show. If you know people who love her, you owe it to them to take them. This isn’t a play, and it’s really not even a musical, but it is a lovingly crafted and beautifully executed homage to a country icon. Take a family member and settle into your seat. You might even be moved to wave your hand in the air.