Arts & Leisure

Musical magic at Gem with “Patsy”

DEE SHANDERA (left) and Nicole Cassesso in “Always, Patsy Cline (Photo by Linda Scarsi).

By Thom deMartino

It’s a story of friendship, respect, ambition, and above all — the music.

By popular demand, “Always, Patsy Cline” is back for a limited time at the Gem Theater in Garden Grove: telling the true-life story of the friendship that evolved between Louise Seger, a divorced single mom in Houston, Texas, and her idol, the rising country music starlet Patsy Cline, when the two cross paths at a concert where the performer is featuring.

Louise (played by Dee Shandera) narrates this trip down memory lane, as she relates how one morning in 1957 as she was making breakfast, she was struck by the singing she heard eminating from a variety show her kids were watching, featuring the up-and-coming star Patsy Cline (Nicole Cassesso): she’s immediately smitten with Patsy’s talent and striking, melodic voice, and it becomes a life-long love affair with her music.

A few years later, when the devoted and fervent fan is giddy to hear that her idol is coming to perform locally in Houston, there’s nothing on Earth that will stop her from attending — and when she meets the star before the show, not only is Patsy warm and friendly, but even heads to Louise’s table to sit, drink and dish with the star-struck fan.

The story of that special evening and the ongoing friendship between the pair is related in-between numerous favorite tunes by the singer, as the audience shares in the treasured true-life memories of a devoted admirer.

A jukebox musical like “Always, Patsy Cline” doesn’t return for a third year without being wildly popular, and the show has proved to be a favorite at the Gem, both for the audience and the cast: both Cassesso and Shandera shine in their reprised roles — it’s understandable why there would be such demand for its return. For a production with only two main characters (excluding the remarkably talented members of the live band “The Bodacious Bobcats”, who deftly accompany Cassesso’s vocals), the show is riveting.

Shandera’s Louise is incredibly matter-of-fact, comical and bawdy, an everywoman that the audience can easily see through the eyes of and sympathize with; while Cassesso’s Patsy is more than just an abstract country music icon, but a very flesh-and-blood, sympathetic and human character. When Louise relates their conversation about marital troubles, it’s not just about one woma’s troubles, but about the challenges faced in every relationship that’s worth saving. When the women sit and shoot the breeze over Schlitz beers, it’s more than the idol-worship of a devoted fan, it’s two kindred spirits in a finite, yet timeless, crystallized moment, that speaks to something deeper and universal.

While this may be the third and arguably final year for the popular “Patsy” – all the more reason to catch it while you can, mind you – who’s to say what the future may bring,  and if the audience’s love demands it return next season.

Either way, “Always, Patsy Cline” – as well as the comical Shandera and scintillating Cassesso – is not to be missed.

 “Always, Patsy Cline” Nicole Cassesso, Dee Shandera and “The Bodacious Bobcats Band” star in this heartfelt tale of friendship, devotion and one of country music’s most scintillating stars. Playing for a special limited engagement from April 12 through May 13 at The Gem Theater, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove.


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