review by Janet I. Martineau
What bittersweet night it was Friday, attending the opening night of the “Always....Patsy Cline” production at the Midland Center for the Arts.
Joanie Stanley in the title role took my emotions back to 1963, as teen-ager madly in love with Cline, right from her Arthur Godfrey years, and learning of her death in an airplane crash. Still can recall hearing the news. Still hurts. Then John F. Kennedy followed in a few months.
And watching Sally Goggin play Cline’s true-story BFF took those same fragile emotions back to the late 1970s through early 1990s when I covered the arts for a newspaper and Goggin was a leading lady in many of Midland’s best shows ever, before she moved away to Cadillac.
Huge, huge losses on both accounts....and profound sadness, tears even, swept over me Friday night on how desperately I still miss both of them.
But....but....the sweet side kept mixing in. Here they were, these two very important elements in my lifeline, on stage together. Briefly...just two hours. But together --- with Stanley’s rock solid voice capturing the essence of Cline and the live concert I never got to see and Goggin, well, back in high gear as the Meryl Streep of mid-Michigan in that she can inhabit the very being of a character through the total loss of herself.
Wow. Whatta night.
Then add the 1960s-era set; the country band with a real, live steel guitar (LOVE that long forsaken instrument); Goggin’s body English when “driving” her character’s car; Stanley’s ever-changing costumes and wigs; the simplicity of the show evoking a simpler time; excellent sound that gave the feel of old recordings; the comfortable relationship of the two actresses and the band as if they really were who they were portraying (a hoot really since Stanley never sang country before this show, Goggin acted in classic theater pieces, and some of the band members are classical or jazz oriented).
Goggin also milked the audience at several points, goading them here and there and making side comments, which they loved and made the evening more personal. Her Louise Seger character is a larger-than-life Texas gal, and Goggin knew how to play it for every laugh without overkill.
And the audience often started applauding when Stanley began a Cline classic, as if in their mind this WAS a Patsy Cline concert. The show contains 27 songs, so it is more concert than play and, as indicated earlier, Stanley’s vocals were as golden as Goggin’s comedic acting. (Loved it, too, when the two did a little singing together since Goggin was active in musical theater so knows her way around notes).
I have wanted to see this show about a short-lived but profound friendship for a long time, and this production did not disappoint -- so thank you very much, director Susie Polito in particular since she oversaw it all.
Memories of it will now invade my sweet dreams, replacing some of that sorrow.