Tuesday, March 20, 2012

More Musical Theatre Bio Shows I'd Rather Not See

Always…Patsy Cline asks a lot of a woman in the title role.

By Russ Bickerstaff
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When I walked out of the Milwaukee Rep’s Always…Patsy Cline I was more than a little disappointed. By the time I’d left the Jay and Patty Baker Theatre complex, I’d had the show pretty much in perspective. Yes: to be fair, Kelly Faulkner is charming as Patsy Cline. And no—she doesn’t have a voice with anywhere near the kind of haunting depth that Cline had, but is it right to expect her to do so? Well . . . no. But she IS playing the Cline, so it’s kind of difficult to watch. I found myself spending much of the first half of the show trying to bridge the gap between Faulkner’s voice and Cline’s. This is no ill judgment of Faulkner. She’s just playing a historical figure with a really, really distinctive voice: an unenviable position for any actor.

Of course, while I’ve heard Cline countless times in hipster cafes and movies and suchlike, I didn’t grow-up listening to her music like so many others in the audience likely HAD. My generation isn’t quite old enough to be going to see these kind of bio shows, so it’ll be a little while before any of the recording artists that were big when I was a kid will be made the subject of musical theatre bios. Here is a random sampling of a few iconic mega-successful pop vocalist recording artists that would make for really interesting bio shows were it not for the fact that, like Patsy Cline, their voices are way too distinct to make for a satisfying show:

David Bowie With a career spanning several decades and a ridiculously large catalogue, Bowie has been so many people over the course of his career. Would make for a really interesting, really theatrical show, but no one has Bowie’s distinctive otherworldly voice. The whole show would be a distraction because so much of what Bowie is as a musician is his voice.

Tina Turner A Baptist turned Buddhist, Turner has a career spanning 50 years (so far.) The catalogue of music she’s worked with is big enough to fill any set of shows. She’d survived an abusive relationship to become one of the most succesfulrecording artists of all time. It’d be a really interesting bio, but that voice . . . it is its own character. There’s no way to replicate that onstage with someone else.

Freddie Mercury Born in East Africa, Mercury spent early childhood in India before moving off to music school in England, where he would later come to help form a mega-successful rock band with an astrophysicist and a few others. He wrote some very popular songs.Bohemian Rhapsody was largely a product of his work in the studio—the product of personal emotional stresses. He died of AIDS . . . very, very dramatic and unique life that would be sfascinating onstage, but . . . no one . . . no one has a voice like this guy. So a musical exploration of his life would be way too distracting.

Huey Lewis Okay. I lose major hipster points for even mentioning this guy, but he had an interesting life early on. In high school, he got a perfect score on math on his SAT’s, got accepted into the engineering program at Cornell. He hitchhiked from California to New York before deciding he’d rather do music, so he stowed away aboard a plane for Europe. In Spain, he performed as a street musician before making it back to the US, ultimately ending up as a back up musician for a young recording artist with the rather strange name of Elvis Costello . . . It’d be interesting to see that explored dramatically, but his voice is so distinct that it wouldn’t work onstage. No one could sound quite like that guy . . .

Madonna Her life would be interesting to see onstage. Particularly the earlier parts--That whole bit of history about her arriving in New York as a complete unknown with nothing but $35 in her pocket is kind of fascinating. My wife is quick to point out that drag queens do Madonna all the time. (And they sing pretty close to her unique vocal quality as well.) Fine. But as she is one of the most successful recording artists of all time, her voice is so distinct that anyone trying to cover her work onstage would end up sounding at least a little off. Any stage bio would feel weird and hollow.  

And I realize that all of this is excessively silly, but in all honesty, people really DO love this show . . . so much so that its doing very good business. It recently extended its run by a couple of weeks thanks to popular demand. The Rep's production of Always...Patsy Cline now closes May 20th. For ticket reservations, visit the Rep online. 

 

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