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Barn Review: Enjoy the music of Patsy Cline

Dia Takahashi sings a Patsy Cline song in a musical tribute, "Always ... Patsy Cline," now playing at The Barn Theatre in downtown Willmar. Behind her is the Bobcat Band. Members of the band include: band leader Sara Miller as "Joe Bob" on piano, Wendall Nash as "Billy Bob" on guitar, Jay Skukrud as "Bob Bob" on drums, Jacklyn Haney as "Jay Bob" on bass and Carl Holm as "Ray Bob" on fiddle. (Tribune photo by Gary Miller)

"Always... Patsy Cline," a toe-tapping musical tribute, runs through Sunday at The Barn Theatre in Willmar.

For those of us too young to know Patsy Cline's musical hits (1957-1963), this is an opportunity to hear her deeply moving voice and her bittersweet story. It's a fun, very funny, and touching play, dedicated to a talented singer.

Patsy Cline had smooth, smoky vocals. Her voice is not easy to replicate (imagine trying to find someone to play Johnny Cash). The Barn has been blessed with guest artist Dia Takahashi's voice. Her musical gifts allow her to channel the legend's unique voice. It's no surprise that people have asked Takahashi if she actually sings or if they are hearing recordings. She's that good. And yes, it really is Takahashi singing.

Surrounded by the outline of a large barn, the five members of the "Bodacious Bobcat Band" are kept very busy. Talented, impressive regional musicians, these three men and two women have flying fingers as they play a songbook of Patsy's hits. They mesh their instruments with the vocals so well that you consider closing your eyes to listen -- but don't, you may miss some comedy antics going on around the stage by southern charmer Louise.

Rounding out the small cast is Louise Seger, performed by veteran local actress Marla Kalin. The narrator, Louise glues Patsy's musical tribute together. As Louise shares her recollections -- from the first time she heard Patsy's music, to her later years of friendship and shared letters with the star -- you hear Takahashi's uncanny ability to replicate Patsy Cline's voice.

The audience clearly loves the songs, and show their appreciation with applause every time one of their favorites is sung. People clap, tap their toes, and, occasionally, quietly sing along with the songs they remember from their own pasts.

"I Fall to Pieces," and "Crazy" perhaps remind a few in the audience of being heartbroken teens. "Just a Closer Walk" and "How Great Thou Art" perhaps bring back memories of grandparents, church and sweet Sundays.

"Gotta Lotta Rhythm in my Soul" and "Shake Rattle and Roll" may trigger memories of swing dancing in the school gym.

Louise is costumed by Joanne Meierhofer in a blonde Dolly Parton wig, and a royal blue and gold western-style shirt. In what could have been a caricature, but wasn't, Kalin channels the brassy, hard-working, warm-hearted, southern everywoman. She is a "Steel Magnolia" who loves cars, two-steppin,' good music and beer. Kalin's Louise is every town's caring, extraverted and "say-it-like-you-mean-it" dame.

Louise stirs dinner on the stove as she shares how she first heard Cline's songs from her kitchen radio. Thanks to Chris McAninch and his set designs, we live in Louise's 1950's vintage kitchen with its perking coffee pot, the Bobcats Barn, and a stage where Patsy performs her famous tunes. Louise is instantly adoring: "Patsy was just as much us, as we were."

She then proceeds to pester the local DJ -- daily -- and repeatedly -- to play Patsy's songs. Through Louise we learn that Patsy's early career included many lonely, one-night gig's in town after town while missing her baby and dealing with husband troubles. Louise strongly identifies with Patsy, and they develop a friendship that lasts over time ... until Cline's death in a plane crash.

This play will take you through a variety of memories and emotions, both the characters' and your own. At times it's funny, positive, melancholy, music-filled, crowd-involved, strobe-lit and a "clap-and tap-your-toes play." Much credit should be given to the band. It is no small feat to play 27 lovely and complicated tunes to perfection. Takahashi, as Patsy, brings deeply moving, clear and sweet amber vocals. You'll be a fan -- she really does sound "just like Patsy."

Kalin, as Louise, keeps the crowd abreast of the singer's story and in stitches with her physical humor and snappy dialogue.

Placed in the knowledgeable and experienced hands of director Nikki Bettcher Erickson, "Always... Patsy Cline" is rich toffee with a coating of toasted pecans. Bettcher Erickson's rendition of the play is a sweet, richly smooth and satisfying musical covered with crunchy, southern, warm-heart, big-mouth, curvy-bodied, real life.

Enjoy the music, enjoy the story and, most of all, enjoy the play as it reminds you of your own memories of love, loss, friendship and fun.

A native of Michigan, Jamin Johnson has been attending plays since she was a child. She's seen everything from one-act plays on college campuses, to Broadway shows in New York, to theater in London. She loves the creative process and the people who make it possible for us to enjoy it.