THUNDER BAY, ON ---- September 15, 2012 ---- When I was younger I remember hearing a band at a local club that was extraordinarily good, My friends much more into the club scene than me kept using the phrase “cooking with gas” to describe the band. Since I also did not watch that much television at the time it took me a while to realize that this was in reference to an advertisement urging people to switch to gas in their home because there was nothing like cooking with gas. It is funny that the memory has stayed with me all this time and now I can use it in this review.
Magnus Theatre’s production of “A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline” is just superb and as my friends would say the band is “cooking with gas”. In fact my only criticism would be the same as a previous play where the music direction was also by Danny Johnson, the band is just too good. I think Patsy Cline would have been so fortunate to have such a great back-up band in the first part of her career. Certainly by the time she reached Nashville, Los Vega, and certainly Carnegie hall in New York she would have had a truly talented back-up band.
Now that I have raved about the band, Patsy Cline played by Natasha O’Brien was worthy of inspiration. Not only could she belt out on Patsy Cline tune after another she did so with enthusiasm and energy of a great country star. Her presence on stage in at least five different dresses show the talent of back stage people Mervi Agrombar costume designer.
This play directed by Mario Crudo fires on all cylinders. The atmosphere is set in the lobby before the concert with imitation 50’s style juke boxes and volunteers wearing cowboy hats greeting guests at the door. Once inside the theatre the staging and lighting all work well to tell the story of Patsy Cline on stage. The story is narrated by “Little Big Man” (played by Gerry Getty) a radio announcer who fills in the audience with all the needed details about the music being performed on stage. He also does the news and some on stage comedy sketches.
This is a concert of Patsy Cline’s great tunes set in a 1950’s radio station. It is full of jingles played by the band such as the stations call letters CWIN. I nearly laughed at the performance of the commercial jungles such as “Ajax cleanser – Stronger than Dirt” In early radio recording technology is not what it is today and having live performers in studio would be the best source of high fidelity music most music listeners could get short of hearing the performers live. There would be a lot more employed musicians if we still did live broadcasting today!
Something else that has changed in the last 60 years is what acceptable humour is. This play is historically accurate in the way it portrays the music, humour and the working conditions for Patsy Cline, the first great female country star. It requires a sense of maturity to appreciate this humour in its historic perspective. I did see some audience members wince a little, women’s emancipation is something that has come a long way and is still evolving.
The band members are Danny Johnson, Martin Blanchet, Rob Jardine, Chris Plater and Dan Zadkovich. These guys are worth the price of admission alone.
If you love country music, historical concerts, or just a great performance come and see Magnus Theatre’s latest production “Just a Closer Walk with Patsy Cline.” The show runs until September 29th.
Call the Box Office at (807) - 345 -5552 for tickets or visit the website at www.magnus.on.ca for more information.