HiLIFE | THEATER
Courtesy Manoa Valley Theatre
Zenia Zambrano Moura stars in Manoa Valley Theatre's "Always ... Patsy Cline."
Strained plot, character antics mar ‘Cline’
Manoa Valley Theatre has enjoyed consistent commercial success in recent years with shows that are, in essence, musical revues consisting of songs with a common denominator, linked by minimal plot. "Leader of the Pack," "My Way," "Smokey Joe's Cafe," "Beehive" and "Forever Plaid" serve as examples. It's not surprising, then, that the theater has opened its 40th season with yet another such show, the Hawaii premiere of "Always ... Patsy Cline."
"ALWAYS ... PATSY CLINE"
Place: Manoa Valley Theatre, 2833 E. Manoa Road
Time: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Sundays, through Sept. 21.
Cost: $35 (discounts for seniors, military and anyone 25 or younger)
Call: 988-6131 or visit www.manoavalleytheatre.com
The production, starring Zenia Zambrano Moura in the title role, is a spinoff of "A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline," which itself was featured on the MVT lineup in 2001 -- with the then-Zenia Zambrano playing Cline. "A Closer Walk" was a musical biography/tribute to the famed country music star.
"Always ..." takes the same concept and stretches it to the breaking point with a story about Cline's friendship with a fan. The plot was inspired by the discovery of a letter the singer wrote to Louise Seger, a Houston housewife, who had befriended her while she was in Texas. The MVT playbill mentions that the show originally ran for 45 minutes but was later expanded to its "full-length version." Oh well.
THE GOOD news is that Moura is as charming and convincing playing Cline in 2008 as she was in 2002. She sings all the songs the star is known for -- plus others that Cline herself may not have performed. Moura does better at looking and sounding like Cline than some of the celebrity impersonators in Waikiki, and MVT could easily chuck the script and present Moura and musical director Kenji Higashihama's musicians as a conventional cabaret show.
Despite the evident popularity of Cline's music at MVT, when Cline/Moura asked the opening-night audience if "ya'll listen to KHCM," no one but this reviewer appeared to recognize the call letters of Hawaii's real-life country music radio station.
The audience members weren't the only folk who seemed unfamiliar with the country music world on a larger scale. Playwright Ted Swindley's "based on a true story" account unfortunately depicts Seger as a stereotypical country yahoo. The shortcomings of the characterization hint that Swindley was looking at country music and its fans from the outside. Whatever the explanation, Seger's antics often distract and detract from Cline's performance. In one instance, she goes way over the line as she repeatedly interrupts Cline's rendition of "Three Cigarettes In An Ashtray" with ill-considered one-liners. Some of Seger's cutesy personal quirks become tiresome as well.
Suzanne Green plays Seger with effervescent zest and panache from start to finish, but one must hope for Cline's sake that the real-life woman was not as we see her here.
Director Jim Hutchison and musical director Higashihama give Moura solid musical support with a band that includes country fiddle and steel guitar. Other local theater groups have blundered in years past by trying to play "country music" without those essential instruments. Higashihama and his musicians, and sound designer Jason Taglianetti, get the music and the sound right.