|Lindsie VanWinkle and Haley Jane Pierce in FLIPSIDE: THE PATTI PAGE STORY|
Clara Ann Fowler (Haley Jane Pierce) was born into a large, poor family in 1927 in Claremore, Oklahoma, one of eleven children. Her father, Ben Fowler (Willy Welch) worked for the railroad, while her mother and older sisters picked cotton. Despite the poverty of her early years (the family home lacked electricity), she somehow evolved into the “Singing Rage” Miss Patti Page (Lindsie VanWinkle), one of the most legendary female singers in popular recording history, with111 hits on the Billboard charts and 100 million records sold to her credit. But through it all and beneath Patti Page’s vibrant, sophisticated public persona, Clara Ann Fowler’s core simplicity and vulnerability remained.
In 2011, the University of Central Oklahoma’s College of Fine Arts & Design’s Broadway Tonight presented the world premiere of Flipside: The Patti Page Story, written and directed by the multi-talented Greg White (artist, actor, director, playwright, producer, and professor) based on his interviews with Miss Page. A year later, the musical was selected from among nearly 3,500 productions to attend the 2012 Regional & National Kennedy Center Festivals where it won several honors including Best Musical. And now it has arrived at 59E59 Theaters where it is enjoying a limited run (only through year-end) in its New York premiere.
Flipside’s producers are planning a National Tour in 2013-14 and that’s a good thing – at least for the rest of the country.. But it’s too bad that New Yorkers won’t be given a longer opportunity to see this show as well, since to do so is truly is a delightful musical experience.
The musical follows Clara Ann Fowler’s trajectory from the time she first became a featured singer on radio station KTUL in Tulsa, Oklahoma at age 18 to her meeting with Jack Rael (Justin Larman), a year later. When Rael heard Page sing, he asked her to join his "Jimmy Joy Band" and the rest, as they say, was history. After leaving the band, Rael ultimately become Page's personal manager. (Larman, incidentally, plays multiple roles in Flipside: in addition to Rael, he depicts Howard Hillenbrand, KTUL’s Program Director; Otto, KTUL’s Station Assistant; Al Clauser, a country singer; Guy Lombardo; and various announcers – and he does a wonderful job across-the board.)
Haley Jane Pierce plays Clara Ann Fowler with great sensitivity and Lindsie VanWinkle is equally accomplished as her much more confident alter ego, Patti Page. Willy Welch is fine as Clara’s dad, and Jenny Rottmayer and Kassie Carroll are charmingly professional in the variety of roles they are called upon to perform as Clara’s sisters and mother and any number of backup singers, radio personae, announcers, and reporters. The all do a good job of moving the story along.
And yet, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that the pleasure you’ll get from this show will derive mostly from the music, rather than the story line. The life of Clara Ann Lawson/Patti Page wasn’t all that dramatic, after all, and certainly wouldn’t rival (in terms of interest) those of, say, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, et al. But as for Miss Page’s musical renditions? Well, those were terrific. And this show – with an eight piece orchestra on stage - doesn’t stint on presenting them, coming up with more than two dozen in all, including “Mockin’ Bird Hill,” “Frankie and Johnny,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” “Confess,” “Detour,” “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?,” “Why Don’t You Believe Me,” “Allegheny Moon,” “Old Cape Cod,” “You Belong to Me,””Back in Your Own Backyard” and, of course, her signature song “Tennessee Waltz.”
If you do get to see this show, I think “you’ll remember the night.” If you don’t, you might never “know just how much you have lost.”