by DICK KEREKES
Jacksonville’s Alhambra Dinner Theatre has opened 2009 bring back by popular demand, one the most successful shows in its 40 year history. A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline. It will be on stage at the 12000 Beach Blvd. theater through February 15th.
Gail Bliss is back as Patsy Cline, a role she has done thousands of times in the past 14 years, and now does it to absolute perfection. She sings twenty one of Cline’s most popular songs, and if I did not know better, I would swear she was lip-syncing a record. She is so much like Cline in the slow ballads with the right vibrato and twang at just the right times. I have seen a number of Patsy Cline tribute shows over the years, in Jacksonville, Daytona Beach, Orlando and Gainesville, and Ms. Bliss is absolutely the best but don’t take my word for it. Charlie Dick (Patsy Cline’s widower), said she was the best when he personally attended the first Alhambra production several years ago.
The 2 1/2 hour show chronicles the life story of this county music legend, starting with her first time on radio at age 15 and takes us through to her death in an airplane crash on March 5, l963 at the age of 31.
Dan Embree, who has worked with Ms Bliss for years, is the narrator who tells stories behind the songs, acting as a disc jockey doing a tribute to her just before her death. Embree is also an accomplished comic, doing some hillbilly routines that must be as old as the Grand Ole Opry itself, but in his skilful hands are just as funny today as evidenced by the hardy laughter of the Alhambra audience. The audience is also treated to some old but still familiar commercials like “Mr. Clean”, “Ajax, the foaming cleanser” and Winston (tastes good like a cigarette should, of course).
Ms. Bliss gave us a fashion show of the period, wearing eleven costumes and using four wigs, to depict the locations where she performed, from honky tonk bars, to The Grand Ole Opry’ and finally Carnegie Hall.
I found it interesting that her success was not immediate and she played the played the small clubs for ten years until her first big hit. Walking After Midnight that she sang on the Arthur Godfrey Show in l957. Cline had a string of hits that put her on the top of the Billboard charts with songs like I Fall to Pieces, Crazy (written by Willie Nelson), Sweet Dreams and Faded Love. The last song she recorded was Just a Closer Walk with Thee, which is the song that closes this show after it is announced she has died in that small plane crash outside of Nashville.
Gail Bliss is backed up by a fabulous band, Gary Butler, Andy Carroll, Eric Lewis, Russ Weaver also with two members from her last visit here Brian Aylor on drums and that fantastic fiddler, Mark Thomas Baczynski. They are authentic looking and fine backup singers. They even change costumes several times during the show. (You have to looks sharp when you go to Carnegie Hall!!)
The show is done on a bandstand, with the radio booth on the right. The Alhambra uses various slide-in backgrounds, like a barn, a large juke box, and special curtains to create the various locales where Ms. Cline performed. In addition the Alhambra has upgraded the lighting and sound sice the show’s previous run. It is a very polished show that was directed by Ms. Bliss and Carolyn Rutherford Mayo. It is beautiful and well done and even if you are not a country music fan, you will truly enjoy it. I highly recommend Closer Walk . It is fine night of nostalgia performed to perfection and you would be Crazy to miss it.
P.S., after the show, Gail Bliss goes into the lobby, to sign autographs and chat that was worth the price of admission!!!
A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline
by DICK KEREKES