Tag Archives: Playhouse @ Westport Plaza

On Stage: A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline

Growing up I didn’t listen to much Patsy Cline. My parents were more into Johnny Cash and Roger Miller. So I spent a lot of time listening to Johnny Cash and Roger Miller.

My father-in-law spent a lot of time listening to Patsy Cline and Marty Robbins. Which meant my wife spent a lot of time listening to Patsy Cline and Marty Robbins.

So Laurie was much more excited about going to see “A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline” than I was, but I was familiar enough with her music to assume that it would probably be a good show.

Sometimes assumptions are correct.

 

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Julie Johnson as Patsy Cline in “A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline,” now playing at the Playhouse @ Westport Plaza. Photo courtesy of Mark Bell Presents

Julie Johnson gives a stellar performance as the country music legend. Backed by a solid four-piece band (Jerry Matheny on electric guitar, Rocky Gribble on acoustic guitar and banjo, John Kerry Huckaba on bass and bass guitar, and D Garrett Roper on drums), Johnson sings and yodels her way through many of Cline’s big hits.

Steve Barcus ties the narrative together as a radio disc jockey hosting a musical tribute to Cline. Barcus plays seven other roles in the course of the show and also serves as the band’s pianist.

Born Virginia Patterson Hensley in 1932, Patsy Cline began her musical career as a teenager, first singing on a local radio show and then in bars and talent shows. She had her first hit with “Walking After Midnight” in 1957 and went on to find success on both the country and pop charts. She died in a plane crash at age 30.

“A Closer Walk” covers all the high points of Cline’s musical career — from radio to nightclubs to the Grand Ole Opry to Las Vegas to Carnegie Hall. It deals with her personal struggles as well. All while performing songs that have become pop music standards — like “I Fall To Pieces,” “She’s Got You” and “Crazy.”

But this isn’t strictly a concert show. Barcus and the band keep things lively with olde tyme comedy bits and classic commercial jingles.

“A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline” is a terrific show. The music is great, the musicians are great, the leads are great and the comedy’s a bit corny — but that’s keeping in the spirit of the times. The Playhouse is also a fine venue for such a program — small and intimate.

“A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline” runs through May 6 at the Playhouse @ Westport Plaza. www.playhouseatwestport.com/

 

 

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On Stage: Church Basement Ladies

 

“Church Basement Ladies,” a musical comedy about ladies who work in a church basement, opened Friday in The Playhouse @ Westport Plaza. It’s a humorous little show that’s part “Fargo (except for the murder part),” part “Lake Wobegon Days” and part “Nunsense (if you replace Catholic with Lutheran).”

Created by Janet Letnes Martin, Suzann Nelson and Curt Wollan, the show centers around four women – and their pastor – at a Lutheran church in rural Minnesota. The action takes place in the kitchen in the church basement. The year is 1965.

CBLInvite1 1Vivian Snustad (Janet Paone) is the matriarch of the quartet. She hates big cities and hates change. And she’s not very fond of lasagna. Mavis Gilmerson (Robbie Mancina) spends most of the show working on the church furnace and dealing with her “women’s issues.” Karin Engelson (Lee Anne Mathews) is in line to take over the kitchen if Mrs. Snustad ever moves aside, and her daughter Beverly (Tara Borman) is home from college and represents youth and change (Yes, Beverly and Vivian are bound to butt heads). They are occasionally joined on stage by Pastor E.L. Gunderson (Greg Eiden).

The show covers four major events in the life of a church kitchen: a Christmas dinner, a funeral, a fundraiser and a wedding. The ladies – and the pastor – sing and dance and laugh and cry as they deal with life and death and marriage and lutefisk and the evolving nature of the church.

“Church Basement Ladies” is a funny and charming show. The set design and costumes are spot on (I was having flashbacks to my grandmother’s kitchen). The songs are clever and the actors have strong voices and appear to be enjoying their roles.

I found myself relating to Mrs. Snustad probably more than I should admit.

“Church Basement Ladies” runs through October 1.  http://www.playhouseatwestport.com/

On Stage: Shotspeare

“Would you like some vodka poured into your mouth?”

Now, I’ve seen a lot of unusual things in my years of attending the theater. (Like, in England they serve sausages during intermission.) But I’ve never had a cast member offer to pour alcohol down my throat.

But then that’s really what you should expect when you go to see a show called “Shotspeare,” running this weekend at the Playhouse @ Westport Plaza.

Starring, directed, and written (with help from William Shakespeare) by Matthew Morgan, “Shotspeare” finally makes The Bard tolerable for those who hate or just don’t understand iambic pentameter. The secret, you see, is alcohol. Lots and lots of alcohol.

Morgan is joined onstage by Brandon Breault, Timur Kocak, Heidi Brucker Morgan, Brian David Sloan and some courageous soul pulled out of the audience. Together they perform Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” at breakneck speed — stopping only for a beer or a shot of Shakespeare vodka (Yes, it’s a real thing).

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An actor spins the Wheel of Soliloquy during “Shotspeare,” a drunken comedy playing through Saturday at the Playhouse @ Westport Plaza. Photo by Makie Schulz

One-part classical theater and two-parts drinking game, “Shotspeare” has its own unique twists. Whenever an actor is about to deliver one of The Bard’s trademark long speeches, everything stops while the actor spins “The Wheel of Soliloquy.”  The actor then continues with his performance, while being pelted with socks, beaten with foam clubs, or forced to recite his lines while eating crackers — depending on where the wheel stops.

Three audience members are given red cards, which they can use once to stop the progress of the play and force the cast to take a shot.

Who says Shakespeare is only for intellectuals?

“Shotspeare” is silly and clever and funny and ribald and raunchy (Romeo and Juliet’s sex scene is, well, just be glad it takes place behind a curtain). The show is truly an English Lit teacher’s nightmare.

Do you have to be drunk to enjoy “Shotspeare?” No, but it’s probably even better if you are. I was pretty much sober through it all and I had a good time. And no, I didn’t take the man up on his pre show drink offer.

SHOTSPEARE runs through Saturday at the Playhouse @ Westport Plaza. http://www.playhouseatwestport.com/shotspear