Unique friendship portrayed in ‘Always … Patsy Cline’
DILLON – To many, she’s the greatest female country singer of all time. To her fans, she’s a beloved singer whose early death at the age of 30 gave her the status of a music icon. But the real story of Patsy Cline transcends the country/pop idol status the decades have bestowed upon her. If Buddy Holly’s death in a plane crash, taking with him the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens, was the day that the music died for rock ‘n’ roll fans, then surely Cline’s fate was its country music equivalent. Along with Cline, country legends Cowboy Copas and Hankshaw Hawkins also perished. And, as often happens, the tragedy made Cline even more famous in death than she was in life.But Patsy was lucky enough to experience a great deal of that fame and adulation in her brief life. And living with that fame – and the loneliness it can bring – is part of the story brought to life onstage in “Always … Patsy Cline.””Always … Patsy Cline” is based on a series of letters exchanged between Cline and one of her fans, Louise Seger, from 1961-1963. This ultimate fan-pen-pal relationship began when Seger first heard Patsy on a radio broadcast of the “Arthur Godfrey Show” – the show that brought the singer to stardom. Seger was so taken with the voice she heard, she beleaguered the local radio DJ, Hal Harris, to play Cline’s recordings every morning.A short time later, Cline performed in a Houston honky-tonk, where Seger met her for the first time. Touring alone and still unsure of her audience, Cline asked Seger how familiar she was with her songs, and pleaded with her to keep an eye out for the drummer so he wouldn’t rush her beats. On the spur of the moment, Seger invited her home to dinner, where the two stayed up all night sharing a pot of coffee, a pack of cigarettes and a lifetime of stories. The next morning, Cline agreed to accompany Louise to the local radio station, just in order to astonish DJ Harris. After this one meeting, Patsy initiated a correspondence with Seger that continued for the rest of her short life. Seger heard of Patsy’s death one morning while listening to the radio; but it wasn’t until some years later that she published a selection of the letters she received from her famous friend, each of which was signed, “With Love Always, Patsy Cline” – giving the collection, and ultimately the show, its name.”Always … Patsy Cline” originally opened in 1990 and has played all over the world, most notably enjoying a continuous run for many years at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Lake Dillon Theatre’s production of “Always … Patsy Cline” features local favorites Kelly Renoux as Patsy and Kelly Ketzenbarger as Louise, and is directed by Wendy Moore. The band is made up of Cara Camping on piano, Tanya Gentry on bass, Greg Gentry on guitar, Julie Wiggins playing the fiddle and Dexter Wiggins on percussion.Lonely womenAccording to Moore, audiences have a surprise in store; Renoux, she says, really does sound like Cline.”Kelly has a beautiful voice, and she’s really honored Patsy Cline by the way she’s doing these songs,” said Moore.Moore says that the appeal of the show – outside of the beautiful, well-known songs such as “Crazy,” “I Fall To Pieces” and “Walking After Midnight” – is the relationship between the country music star and the Houston housewife.”I think that Louise finds and relates to the loneliness in Patsy,” Moore said. “They both come from that same place, wanting and needing a friend. And for all her flakiness, Louise is very grounded in what is real and what is right. She senses that in Patsy Cline, and Patsy senses that in her.”Moore said that Cline’s life on the road – away from her children and a troubled marriage – went against the grain for most women of her era.”Fame is an interesting thing; it brings you money and other things, but it isolates you,” she said. “And the play gets into how isolating fame is. But Louise is able to get past the idea of Patsy as a star, and becomes her friend.”This friendship is chronicled on stage in dialogue by Louise and in song by Patsy – a concept that represents some difficulties for the director.”One of the challenges is that in the show, Patsy doesn’t speak, she just sings,” Moore said. “Most of what we know about them is through the music, and from what Louise reports; it’s all from Louise’s perspective. “But the show is so solidly written, and Patsy’s songs are so conversational, they lend themselves to the story.”The cast has been rehearsing the show since August – but for Renoux, the daunting task of recreating the singing Patsy Cline has been a months-long process.”For the past four months, I’ve listened to nothing but Patsy Cline,” Renoux said. “I’ve had to do a lot of research to figure out her style.”And, says Renoux, it’s not just a question of imitating intonation and phrasing. It’s capturing a sound.”There’s only so much you can do with your own voice,” Renoux said. “And also, Patsy wasn’t as country as some people think. She covered every genre of music. But the biggest thing is her heart and soul – and that’s what sold her records. It’s the hardest thing to imitate – the emotion she put into her songs.”And it’s not just the singer; it’s the larger-than-life personality of this warm-hearted woman that Renoux wants to convey.”It was such a different time period, and the world of pop music was so male-dominated,” said Renoux. “Patsy was a spitfire. She had to be, to survive. She was one tough cookie.”But it speaks volumes about Patsy that she met this fan and kept in touch with her for several years afterwards,” she added. “That wouldn’t happen with a pop star today.”So how much of a Patsy fan is Renoux these days?”I have her entire CD collection now,” she laughed.Vail Colorado
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