When STAGES St. Louis opened its 2013 season with a production of Always…Patsy Cline, executive producer Jack Lane knew something special was happening. The tuneful tribute to the late country music artist had the largest advance sales of any show in STAGES’ 27-year history, and sold out most of the performances in its month-long run.
“We could run this all summer,” Lane said then, indicating that STAGES was looking at other venues where it could showcase playwright Ted Swindley’s energetic, offbeat paean to Cline and her down-home relationship with a Houston fan named Louise Seger before Cline died in a plane crash in 1963. STAGES found that locale.
Now, Always…Patsy Cline is back to St. Louis for an encore production featuring Jacqueline Petroccia as Patsy Cline, in a role that brought her a Best Actress in a Musical nomination by the St. Louis Theater Circle, and St. Louis actress Zoe Vonder Haar as Louise Seger, for which she won the 2014 St. Louis Theater Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical.
LN recently spoke with playwright, producer and director Swindley about his smashingly successful show, one of the top 10 most produced shows in the last 20 years.
Q. What gave you the idea to do a show about Patsy Cline?
A. People would naturally think that I was a huge Patsy Cline and country music fan, but that wasn’t true. I barely knew about Patsy Cline. When I wrote the show, I was a running the Stages Theater in Houston, where I had been since 1978 and which is still operating today.
In 1988, we had a downturn in the economy; and I needed a show to generate money. I had a singer there named Kayce Glasse who had been saying for two years, Do a Patsy Cline show. I would say, Who is Patsy Cline?, to which she would answer, You know, the Crazy song.
We had to put a show together very quickly and I asked Kayce if she knew Patsy’s music. “I know every note,” she told me.
Q. How did you pick the theme?
A. I asked Kayce to give me all of her albums and cassettes so that I could listen all weekend to come up with an idea for a show. I became a rabid fan over that weekend. I was amazed at Patsy’s voice and her repertoire and what I heard.
I decided that I didn’t want to do a revue, and I didn’t want to do a bio musical. There was this question in my brain about whether she had ever played Houston. I did a little research and found out about the Esquire Ballroom (in Houston), and found an interview with Louise (Seger) in a biography. At the end of that interview, they printed the first letter that Louise received from Patsy in 1961. I felt that there was a woman who was a bona fide star in country music, and this letter was so personable and so human, with a wonderful anecdote about (Patsy getting back to her) ironing. It was a human interest story right here in Houston.
Q. So how did that information inspire you?
A. I put together a one-act performance in about two weeks and it ran for five months. I didn’t think that it would go any further because it was a ‘local’ story. Three years later, I moved back to my home state of South Carolina and the board of directors in Greenville asked me to do a summer musical.
That’s when I turned it into what it is today. It opened on the Fourth of July and sold out. The day after, the box office went crazy, and we had to hire three more people to handle the ticket volume for the 600-seat theater. Then, I took it to the Soleto Festival in Charleston, where it was the hit of the festival.
Q. Why do you think that this show so enduring and beloved?
A. Patsy recorded great music. It’s amazing when you listen to how well her music still stands up today. The second reason, I think, is that it has universal appeal. Who has not had the fantasy of meeting the idol of your dreams and taking them home to sit across from you at your kitchen table? This show touches on the universality of fanship turning into a friendship.
WHEN: April 22 through June 15
WHERE: The Playhouse at Westport Plaza
INFO: 821-2407 or stagesstlouis.org