Kelley Faulkner Is Astonishing In Milwaukee Reps “Always…Patsy Cline”

Reviewed by: Matthew Perta

Highly Recommended

Photos by: Michael Brosilow

Whenever I read a good book, see a great movie or experience theater at its best, I fall to pieces.  Not literally, mind you, but I do go a little crazy – it’s like that’s all I want to talk about.  At the risk of sounding a little too corny, let me rein it in a bit here and tell you about a rip-roaring show I saw recently that tore my little old heart to pieces, it’s called Always…Patsy Cline, the season finale in the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s quaint Stackner Cabaret.

Originally created by Ted Swindley and based on a true story, Always…Patsy Cline is about the phenomenal friendship that blossoms between Patsy Cline, a country music superstar gifted with an exceptional vocal range, and Louise Seger, a devoted fan.  Seger becomes Cline’s most ardent follower after hearing her sing on the Arthur Godfrey television show.  The two meet face to face at a honky-tonk bar in Houston and become best friends – Seger even invites Cline to stay over at her house before heading off to Dallas for another gig.  The friendship continues well after Cline heads off to Dallas – the two exchanged letters right up until Cline’s tragic death in a plane crash outside of Nashville in 1963.

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Kelley Faulkner, a New York native now residing in Milwaukee, reprises the role of Cline which she first played at The Rep back in 2012.  I’ve seen Faulkner before, just recently as Adelaide in The Rep’s Guys and Dolls, but as Patsy Cline is astonishing.  Faulkner perfectly captures Cline’s warmth, and her expressive, one-of-a-kind singing style and smooth as silk voice.  All eyes in the house were transfixed on Faulkner as she brought to life Cline’s wide-ranging repertoire of tunes including “I Fall to Pieces,” “Sweet Dreams” and “Crazy,” along with Cole Porter’s “True Love” and many more.

Sharing the stage with Faulkner, Tami Workentin (who’s performed with the Bailiwick Repertory Theatre in Chicago) brings down the house with her deliciously wild yet touching turn as Cline’s No. 1 fan Louise Seger.  Seger’s hilarious – and raunchy – exchanges with the audience are pure gold.  And nobody I know can sway their hips in excitement while wearing tight jeans as well as Workentin can.

Always…Patsy Cline is a rollicking good time, filled with melodious tunes, laughter and love, taking us back to simpler times.  This show provides us with the escape we need from a world that’s growing increasingly more jaded, but at the same time, it fits into the hot topics of today: empowering women and treating them with respect.  Director Laura Braza elicits performances from Faulkner and Workentin that pack such a punch it’s obvious Cline and Seger, both married

to less-than-spectacular husbands, took charge of their respective lives, thumbed their noses at men and formed an unbreakable bond.

Faulkner’s role as Cline requires her to make multiple costume changes throughout the show.  One of those costumes is a cowgirl dress, fringe and all, created by Milwaukee-based designer Leslie Vaglica.  The other costumes, striking in color and style, add immeasurably to Faulkner’s superb portrayal, reminding us of the girlish charm and keen fashion sense for which Cline was known.

Always…Patsy Cline also reminds us, particularly those of my generation that were too young to remember Cline, that one of the most beautiful voices ever heard in concerts and on the airwaves in the 20th century was unfairly snuffed out way too early.

Always…Patsy Cline sings and laughs its way into human hearts now through May 20 in the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Stackner Cabaret, located at 108 E. Wells in downtown Milwaukee.  For tickets visit www.MilwaukeeRep.com or call (414) 224-9490.