Haley Jane Pierce and Lindsie VanWinkle in FLIPSIDE: THE PATTI PAGE STORY. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
BOTTOM LINE: This look at the life of '50s pop-singer Patti Page is heavy on the live, streamlined musical numbers, and light on the story.
Considering the success garnered by '50s and '60s era singer Patti Page -- including 100 million records sold and 111 hits on the Billboard charts -- it’s surprising that she is not better known to younger generations. This production of Flipside: The Patti Page Story, produced by Front Page Productions in association with the University of Oklahoma, attempts to give her her due.
The story begins with Page herself waiting in a radio studio while narrating her life story to the audience. Page’s first singing gig is as a radio crooner. While she sings on air each actress in the cast takes turns singing as Page, showing the fact that her vocal versatility allowed her to play multiple personas. During most of the play, the part is divided up between two actresses. Intially, she is played by Haley Jane Pierce, when she is Clara Ann Fowler and not her stage persona. Lindsie VanWinkle, meanwhile, plays Page as a glittering pop sensation. A light green scarf becomes the indicator of which woman is being Page and later comes to represent Page returning to her Oklahoma roots after being controlled too long by her manager (Justin Larman). The Page embodied by VanWinkle (who looks the most like Page in her heyday) is a bit like a more demure version of Marilyn Monroe, evoking sensuality with her blonde wig and cleavage-showing necklines, but still maintaining an air of wide-eyed innocence.
VanWinkle and Pierce look quite different and are of noticeably different heights, which makes the fact that they both play the same character initially confusing and perhaps unnecessary; although it does add complexity. It also makes it easier to stage Page’s style of singing in harmony with herself, a vocal style she pioneered during an early recording session in 1947 when the label couldn’t spring for a backup singer. Both women give impassioned performances of Page’s hits, with Pierce portraying Page in the uncertain time before she hit stardom.
In terms of storyline, the production focuses more on the musical numbers than on Page's biography. For fans of Page’s music or music from that era, this is surely a plus considering the skilled backing band and strong vocal performances from both of the lead actresses. The performances from the supporting actors, particularly Kassie Carroll, also serve to add energy and context to the musical numbers. The glittering costumes, designed by Corey Martin, are successfully evocative of the glamour of that era. However, those looking for insight into Page’s life story and conflicts may find their desires not fully satiated as the production forgoes drama in favor of musical numbers. Flipside might not give a fully fleshed out picture of the life of Patti Page, but it certainly makes a strong argument for her place in musical history.
(Flipside:The Patti Page Story plays at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, through December 30, 2012. Remaining performances are Thursday at 7PM; Friday at 8PM; Saturday at 2PM and 8PM; and Sunday at 3PM. Tickets are $42-$60 and are available at www.59e59.org or by calling 212.279.4200.)