Story: Louise Seger, a Houston homemaker with a husband and two children, becomes an instant fan of rising young country singer Patsy Cline when she hears the latter perform on The Arthur Godfrey Talent Show on CBS in 1957. She soon pesters the local disk jockey regularly with requests for tunes by Cline. In 1961, when she learns that Cline will be performing at Houston’s Esquire Ballroom, she and her husband and boss arrive 90 minutes early for the concert.
Surprisingly, they find Patsy checking on details of the show by herself. Louise introduces herself and Patsy suggests that she sit at Louise’s table in between performing tunes. Later, Patsy accepts Louise’s invitation to come back to her house, where the two develop a friendship that lasts until Patsy’s fatal plane crash in1963. Always…Patsy Cline focuses on Louise’s reminiscences of Patsy and the unusual bond between performer and fan.
Highlights: Conceived and originally directed by Ted Swindley and first performed 25 years ago in Houston, Always…Patsy Cline is considered one of the most produced shows in America and beyond, including the United Kingdom, Ireland and Australia. Later this summer it’s scheduled for its Broadway debut, although an off-Broadway version previously has been produced.
Stages St. Louis opens its 2013 season with the sizzling local debut of performer Jacqueline Petroccia in the title role alongside savvy Stages veteran Zoe Vonder Haar as Louise. The usually staid albeit appreciative Stages audience uncharacteristically was whoopin’ and hollerin’ throughout the media night performance of the two-character, two-act show that romps through two brisk hours under Michael Hamilton’s sure-handed and meticulous direction.
Accompanied by musical director Lisa Campbell Albert and a ‘live,’ six-piece band, this version of Always…Patsy Cline is a feel-good effort from start to finish that already has sold out most of its performances, resulting in the addition of two more shows on June 16 and June 23 at 7:30 p.m.
Other Info: Petroccia, who has portrayed “The Cline” in three previous productions of this upbeat and toe-tapping hootenanny, displays a clear and powerful voice as well as a marked ability to shape driving, upbeats tune with gusto or layer a ballad with a soft, velvet sheen. The show features 27 tunes, many of them from the Patsy Cline songbook in a career that ended abruptly at age 30.
Cline took tunes written by such songwriters as Willie Nelson (Crazy), Don Hecht and Alan Block (Walkin’ After Midnight), Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard (I Fall to Pieces), Don Gibson (Sweet Dreams) and even Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield (Stupid Cupid) and stamped each with her infectious style.
Vonder Haar adds warmth and comedy as the adoring fan Louise who later becomes a pen pal of Cline until the latter’s death, regularly receiving letters signed, “Love Always, Patsy Cline.” Vonder Haar even traipses through the aisles bantering with the audience, confiscating a man at one point for an impromptu dance on stage to one of Patsy’s tunes.
There seem to be minor problems with James Wolk’s set design, which includes twin areas depicting Louise’s early ‘60s kitchen at stage right and a den of sorts at stage left that is from a later era. Background notes set that period as shortly after Cline’s death, but a push-button phone doesn’t fit that exact time, so it’s a bit fuzzy. Wolk also sets the band behind a sheer curtain at the back of stage left that extends to a radio booth at back center where Patsy performs periodically.
Matthew McCarthy’s lighting design cleverly illuminates Louise’s kitchen radio when she’s listening to Patsy on the local country station, and Lou Bird’s costumes suitably depict Patsy’s attire from her beginnings in simple cotton dresses to her more sophisticated romps in a pair of gold-colored slacks, as well as Louise’s down-home Western duds.
Albert’s lively band includes John Higgins playing pedal steel guitar and acoustic guitar, Jon Ferber on electric guitar and acoustic guitar, fiddler Kevin Buckley, Vince Corkery on bass, drummer Don Drewett and Albert at the piano. They look like they’re having considerable fun, a feeling that pervades the audience.
Stages St. Louis probably could run Always…Patsy Cline all summer to accommodate the enthusiastic audiences the show is garnering. Hearing Petroccia take command of a roster of plaintive ballads and good-time country tunes, it’s easy to see how Patsy Cline crossed over so successfully onto the pop charts in her singular career.
Musical: Always…Patsy Cline
Company: Stages St. Louis
Venue: Reim Theatre, Kirkwood Civic Center, 111 South Geyer Road
Dates: Through June 30
Tickets: $20-$55; contact 821-2407 or stagesstlouis.org
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Peter Wochniak