Saturday, December 22, 2012

Flipside: The Patti Page Story

Flipside: The Patti Page Story, which opened last night at 59E59 Theaters, is misnamed. It should be called Patti Page Songs because precious little personal story is told in this show, written and directed by Greg White, that is more a revue of 28 of the songs she made famous.

This latest of what have come to be called jukebox musicals is mostly all jukebox, lacking the drama or comedy that would make it theatrical enough to be called a musical. The most interesting details of Page’s life are recounted in the closing address to the audience, and then they’re mostly just career facts.

We do learn she had adopted two children. So what did this mean in her life? Had she wanted to have children of her own but couldn’t? Was there any heartache about that?

She had two failed marriages. Could we see some of the romance of the courting and drama of the breakups? Neither the husbands nor the children are in The Patti Page Story. How could they be left out of someone’s story?

From what we hear at the end -- that she had 111 hits on the Billboard charts and sold more than 100 million records -- we know she had a wildly successful career, but from what we see onstage her life would seem to be the most placid in show business history. The piece is only 95 minutes long but I was bored well before it was over -- too many novelty songs like “Doggie in the Window” and “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus.”

White uses a familiar devise to unveil what he does of Page’s life -- the older star looking back. Clara Ann Fowler (Haley Jane Pierce, left in photo), a short, bespeckled woman with light brown hair in a drab brown suit and tan sweater, returns to the radio station in Tulsa, OK, where she got her start and begins to reflect on her swift assent to fame as Patti Page (Lindsie VanWinkle). In fabulous full-skirted 50s style dresses and glamorous gowns (costumes by Corey Martin), a platinum-haired VanWinkle sings hits accompanied by an eight-piece onstage orchestra in scenes of Page’s nightclub days as “The Singing Rage.” Pierce sings as well; I particularly liked her “Tennessee Waltz.”

But the flashbacks should be more than just a song. We need conflict and interactions. Page hints at some dissatisfaction with fame, describing a celebrity as not a human being but “the combination of a human -- and the audience that observers her.” But then she goes on to pile one success on top of another.

One of her career highlights has become one of her legacies. On New Year’s Eve 1947, unable to hire back-up singers, Page became the first to “sing a duet with herself” when she recorded “Confess,” singing the main vocals first and then recording the back-up, a trick that was her idea. This earned her lots of publicity and set her apart from the other “Girl Singers.”

“We didn’t know we were doin’ somethin’ innovative,” Clara Ann says, addressing the audience. “Makin’ recordin’ history. We just wanted to record a good song. But that night, there at Mercury studios in Chicago, I was the first singer to ever double her own voice on a recordin’. Overdubbing they called it. Nobody had ever done it before!”

At the end, VanWinkle lets us know her eight-decade career is still humming.

“Today Patti Page is 84 years old,” she says. “She continues to record and perform on a regular basis. Her heart belongs to her audiences who have given her so much love over the years.”

All’s well that ends well, it would seem.

The cast also includes Willy Welch, Justin Larman, Jenny Rottmayer and Kassie Carroll. Conductor and music director Sandra Thompson leads the orchestra.

 Flipside premiered in Page’s home state of Oklahoma and toured to Washington, D.C. for the Kennedy Center Theater Festival, where it won several awards, including Outstanding Production of a Musical.  Its New York run closes Dec. 30.

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