ALHAMBRA THEATRE AND DINING REVIEW
A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW BY DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Jacksonville’s Alhambra Theatre & Dining continues its 50th year celebration by bringing back country music singer Gail Bliss, one of the most popular artists to ever grace the Alhambra stage. She is appearing in “A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline,” her trademark production, and is once again playing to sold-out crowds. If you want to participate in a lively walk with Patsy, we suggest calling 904-642-1212 for reservations. The show runs through February 19th, 2017 at 12000 Beach Boulevard.
When the Alhambra first booked Gail Bliss some twenty years ago, she was a relatively unknown singer, who was welcomed by enthusiastic crowds. After a little research, marketing staff was delighted to find that the productions were attracting many newcomers, with first-time visitors purchasing over forty percent of the tickets. Current productions appeal to loyal repeat visitors, and also continue to attract those visiting the venue for the first time.
If you have seen Bliss’s performance in the past, we are pleased to report that the show remains the same, an uplifting story filled with marvelous songs by a talented contemporary songstress who cherishes and shares the story of the legendary Patsy Cline.
The hilarious Dan Embree, who has performed with Bliss for twenty years, is back as the show’s narrator. He portrays a radio station broadcaster spinning Patsy’s records and reminiscing about her career in her hometown of Winchester, Virginia. He also appears in roles as a comic during her appearances at Nashville’s Opry and in Vegas. And he is very, very funny, even though the routines date back to the 1950’s.
The song list has over twenty songs, which include such favorites as “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” Walkin’ After Midnight,” a soulful “Always,” and of course, “Crazy,” a top hit by Willie Nelson.
We went to a matinee to review the show since we had invited guests from out of town to join us. We discovered that the Alhambra offers the same menu for both lunch and dinner. Choices included chicken gumbo (delicious) or a house salad, followed by country-fried steak, oven roasted pork, shrimp and leek gratin, or falafel as a vegetarian entrée. Dessert included a choice of house banana pudding or decadent chocolate brownie (both superb); desserts without sugar or gluten were also offered.
After each show Bliss and band members make their way to the lobby to the delight of fans eager to take photos and get autographs. Related merchandise is also available in the lobby, and includes albums by Gail Bliss. “Play It by Heart,” her latest album, is available on CD and features fourteen songs written for a musical she will be launching in the near future.
The band for this show is excellent and includes Paul Kramer (Fiddle), Rory Hoffman (Saxophone/ Piano), Russ Weaver (Steel Guitar), Eric Lewis (Pedal Steel Guitar), Penn Pennington (Electric & Acoustic Guitars), Brian Aylor (Drums), Dave Web (Upright Bass), Bill Lilliman (Sound Engineer), and Dave VanderKamp (Sound Engineer).
Up next for the Alhambra is “Show Boat,” a musical opening on February 22, which is considered one of the best in musical theatre history. For additional information, visit alhambrajax.com.
“A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline” is a crowd pleaser. Patsy was a country girl with humble beginnings who became a superstar; her music has universal appeal even after her death over fifty years ago in a plane crash. And Ms. Bliss as Patsy Cline captures every hopeful glimmer, every mournful nuance, every ounce of projected energy in the original songs, and makes them sound natural, and flowing. Her performance is indeed remarkable, so don’t miss it.