Reprinted by kind permission from NealsPaper.com.
Someone should sit down and write a dozen Country tunes for Jessica Wagner to record in the style of Patsy Cline. For the second time in three seasons, Wagner has taken to the Bristol Riverside Theatre as the legendary Mrs. Cline, and for the second time, she makes one wonder more seriously about one performer being able to channel another with frightening accuracy while showing traits that are individually her own.
Wagner turns A CLOSER WALK from a clichéd narrative that has neither the story, the substance, or the wit of Always…Patsy Cline, a triumph for both Wagner and Jenny Lee Stern in recent seasons (not to mention Jo Twiss and Denise Whelan, who I just did mention). In spite of some sharp work by Danny Vaccaro as a deejay and a hambone comedian armed with jokes Methusaleh found corny, and some slick singing by four young men doing tight harmonies as The Jordanaires, Dean Regan’s script for A CLOSER WALK stagnates while Ted Swindley’s for Always entertains.
In Bristol, the script doesn’t matter. At some point, Charlie Gilbert, Neil Nemetz, and the band are going to play a familiar intro that gets your anticipation cooking, and Wagner will appear and send you to entertainment Nirvana with her plaintive, sincere singing of ballads, her yodeling wails in up-tempo numbers, and, most of all, that catch in the voice that was Patsy’s trademark. There isn’t much to act in A CLOSER WALK. Wagner is limited to the kind of patter and welcoming talk Patsy might do at a concert. There’s drama in the songs and Wagner’s singing of them. It’s enough to sustain you. Heck, it’s enough to exhilarate you.
Kudos to Danny Vaccaro for infusing as much variety and humor into his stale characters while always staying true to those characters. Vaccaro particular proves his mettle while playing the cornball comedian. Nate Golden, Sean C. White, Christopher J. Perugini, and Jared Calhoun are splendid as The Jordanaires. Susan D. Atkinson keeps all as tight and lively as Regan lets her. You can listen to Gilbert and ensemble on their own. It may have been a better idea just to let them jam between songs rather than do Regan’s book. Linda B. Stocton’s wigs and costumes for Wagner are perfect in terms of style and Patsy’s personal progression of hairdos and ’60s cocktail dresses (the best of any era).
[Bristol Riverside Theatre, 120 Radcliffe Street, Bristol, Pa] September 27-October 16, 2016; brtstage.org.