Details matter. Sorry. Always ... Patsy Cline depends heavily but not solely upon the talent of the actor/singer charged with the title role. In the casting of the mellifluous Katie Aiello as the country-music icon, the Theatre Factory's production of the 1988 bio-musical provides a pleasant, at times uplifting entertainment. But as big and as effective as her performance is, Aiello needs solid country instrumentals backing her, not auditory wallpaper.
"Based on a true story" according to Always' writer, Ted Swindley, the show stems from the memories of a Houston-based super-fan whose narration provides the metaphorical clothesline for more than two dozen songs. As the cheerfully obnoxious Louise, Kristin S. Buccilli chews the scenery and the occasional bit of dialogue. And she's not bad in her own rendition of a Cline hit, "If You've Got Leavin' on Your Mind," and in backing Aiello.
But Swindley's structure leaves Cline a singing cipher: nix to characterization, minimal acting required. Pity. For those saying "Patsy who?": Miss Cline (nee Virginia Patterson Hensley), began her brief career in 1955 and was crossing over to mainstream pop success when she died at age 30 in a 1963 plane crash. Her efforts to rise from the "wrong side of the tracks" in Appalachian Virginia to stardom in a male-dominated industry have the makings of a good yarn. Always frames her life as little more than a rags-to-riches footnote.
What Factory director David Taylor Little's Always captures best is Cline's re-definition of country-vocal expectations and her evolution as a singer. Aiello's rich voice is emotive without the (often irritating) nasal twang associated with country. She easily interprets a wide range of composers, from Cole Porter and early rock's Neil Sedaka to Hank Williams Sr. and Willie Nelson. A spot-on impersonation of Patsy Cline is beside the point. But while Aiello captures Cline's spirit, she's hampered by a backup band of varying competences and by indifferent costuming.
Like Miss Cline, I am descended from a proud seamstress and a passable country fiddler; thus I suffer on Miss Cline's behalf. When Ms. Aiello was finally presented in a becoming (if anachronistic) gown, she turned to reveal -- a reptilian alien in parasitic attack mode! Oh. Just her wireless mic, mis-accentuated by the back-revealing drapery.
Ill-tailored though they may be, Always' success rests comfortably on the shoulders of Katie Aiello.
Always ... Patsy Cline continues through May 15. The Theatre Factory, 235 Cavitt Ave., Trafford. 412-374-9200 or www.thetheatrefactory.com
- Kristin S. Buccilli and Katie Aiello in Always ... Patsy Cline, at the Theatre Factory.