Always…Patsy Cline, by Ted Swindley, tells the simple, if sweet, true story of an encounter between the legendary country music singer and a female fan that led to an unlikely friendship. There’s not really much to it, so what accounts for its durability, since it pops up regularly at theaters around the country, including its current production at Florida Studio Theatre?
Well, perhaps that simplicity itself provides the durability. That and the nostalgic notion of a country star like Cline turning up at a Texas honky tonk unaccompanied by an entourage, holding an audience spellbound without special effects, videos or outlandish costumes, and then willingly sipping a Schlitz with an unknown woman who turns out to be her biggest fan. Oh…and all that great music Cline made so memorable.
Probably just about everyone knows something about Cline, including her tragic early death in a plane crash. But if you haven’t seen this show before, you may not know that on one night in 1961, Cline made the dreams of that fan—a divorced mother of two named Louise Seger (Susan Greenhill)—come true by inviting her up onstage, chatting away like two old buddies, and even spending the night at her house after sharing bacon and eggs in her Houston kitchen.
Greenhill sets up the meeting between the two well beforehand by sharing how she fell in love with Patsy’s voice when she overheard her singing on TV host Arthur Godfrey’s show. Soon Louise is calling up her local DJ constantly asking him to play one of Cline’s hits. Her ecstasy at getting to meet her idol in person is believable, but it’s even better when the two form a real bond that goes well beyond the music.
Greenhill is all gusto and go as Louise, interacting with the audience, pantomiming herself driving her car or watching the TV screen rapt in awe whenever Cline is on it. She wins over the audience with her energy, and then Meredith Jones’ Cline plays off that energy to deliver tune after tune from Cline’s repertoire, looking convincing in wigs by Joyce Ward and costumes by Susan Angermann that are true to the period but in general flatter Jones as well.
And Jones sounds pretty convincing, too, always given the caveat that nobody can really do Patsy except Patsy. The evening includes rollickers like “Come On In (And Sit Right Down)” and “Shake Rattle and Roll,” tearjerkers like “I Fall to Pieces,” “She’s Got You,” and, of course, “Crazy,” and hymns like “Just A Closer Walk” that demonstrate both Cline’s and Jones’ versatility. Patsy packed a lot of singing into a brief life, and this show packs a lot of it in, too.
The actresses are backed by those “Bodacious Bobcats,” a four-piece band led by Dr. Justin P. Cowan with the right country feel, and perform on a set by Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay that takes us both to that honky tonk and to Louise’s cozy kitchen. They’re directed by Kate Alexander, and as a team they keep a show that could feel static always on the move.
Always…Patsy Cline continues through June 24 at FST’s Gompertz Theatre. For tickets call 366-9000 or go to floridastudiotheatre.org.