a closer walk with patsy cline

by dick kerekes
Jacksonville’s Alhambra Dinner Theatre opens 2009 by bringing back 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 Boulevard theater through February 15th.
Gail Bliss returns as Patsy Cline, a role she has played thousands of times in the past 14 years, and has honed to absolute perfection. She is so much like Cline it sends shivers down your spine, particularly during the slow ballads, which she sings with the right vibrato and twang at just the right times.
Dan Embree, who has worked with Ms. Bliss for years, play the narrator who tells the stories behind the songs, acting as a disc jockey doing a tribute to her just before her death. The audience is also treated to some old but still familiar commercials like Mr. Clean, Ajax cleanser and Winston (tastes good like a cigarette should, of course).
Ms. Bliss gives us a fashion show of the period, wearing eleven costumes and using four wigs, each outfit reflecting the locations where she performed, from honky tonk bars to The Grand Ole Opry and finally Carnegie Hall. The 21/2 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.
Patsy Cline’s success was not immediate. She 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,’ appropriately the song that closes this show.
Gail Bliss is backed up by a fabulous band, Gary Butler, Andy Carroll, Eric Lewis and Russ Weaver. Also, you’ll hear Brian Aylor on drums and that fantastic fiddler, Mark Thomas Baczynski. Both Alyor and Baczynski backed her during her last run here in Jacksonville. The show is done on a bandstand, with the radio booth on the right. To further set the scenes, the Alhambra uses various slide-in backgrounds and special curtains to create the various locales where Ms. Cline performed.
The show is beautiful and well done. Even if you are not a country music fan, you will truly enjoy it. It is fine night of nostalgia performed to perfection and you would be “crazy” to miss it. For reservations call 641-1212 or visit alhambradinnertheatre.com.