by Mary Donofrio
Mainstage series is a well-loved favorite of theatre buffs and country music fans alike, Always…Patsy Cline by Ted Swindley. Remembered today as one of the most talented singers of the 20th century, Patsy Cline made a remarkable impact despite a short career. As arguably the best known tribute to Cline’s life and legacy, Always…Patsy Cline has become one of the top 10 most-produced plays in the country, and it continues to be widely seen and loved today.
Patsy Cline was one of the first popular female Country recording artists, and a trailblazer for many acts to follow. She was a woman of firsts. Cline was the first female solo artist to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the first female Country artist to perform at Carnegie Hall, and the first woman in Country music to have her own headlining solo show in Las Vegas. Her influence is still felt to this day. She has been named as an influence by music legends like Loretta Lynn, Brenda Lee, Cyndi Lauper, k.d. lang, Reba McEntire, and LeAnn Rimes.
Patsy Cline was born Virginia Patterson Hensley on September 8, 1932 in Winchester, Virginia to Samuel and Hilda Patterson Hensley. Despite her lack of formal training, this Queen of Country Music in-the-making was a talented singer and pianist in her early years. Growing up, Cline sang on local radio, performed at local venues, and competed in talent contests. In 1952, she began working with her second manager, Bill Peer, who convinced her to change her name from Virginia to Patsy, taken from her middle name Patterson. When she married Gerald Cline a year later, Patsy Cline as we knew her was born. She signed to Four Star Records in 1955, and her path to stardom began.
Always…Patsy Cline tells the story of Cline’s rise to fame through the eyes of one of her biggest fans. Louise Seger first heard Patsy Cline on the Arthur Godfrey Show in 1957, and was utterly charmed by Cline’s voice and style. It wasn’t until 1961, when Cline played a show at the Esquire Ballroom near Houston that Louise had the chance to meet her idol. Following this meeting, Cline and Seger kept in touch through letters and phone calls throughout Cline’s life. Always…Patsy Cline has Louise recalling these precious memories after the passing of her idol, along with the songs that made Patsy Cline a music legend. From her classic hits such as “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Back in Baby’s Arms,” “Walkin’ After Midnight,” and “Sweet Dreams (of You)” to other beloved favorites like “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Stupid Cupid,” and “San Antonio Rose,” Always…Patsy Cline is a charming portrait of one of the most treasured American entertainers and celebrates her short, but remarkable career.
Always…Patsy Cline has enjoyed a much beloved run in theatres both domestically and abroad. Since its initial premiere in Houston, the play has been performed numerous times throughout the country, including a run at The Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, the former home of the Grand Ole Opry, where Cline, herself, often performed.
Internationally, the show has been produced in Australia, The United Kingdom, Ireland, and Canada. In the 2017-2018 theatrical season alone, the show will be performed at 31 different theatres around the country and abroad. This will be our third time producing Always…Patsy Cline at Florida Studio Theatre, with previous productions during the 1996 and 2008 Summer Mainstage seasons.
What makes this piece an FST favorite? Not only does it give audiences the opportunity to hear some of the best music of an iconic era, the story of Patsy and Louise’s relationship speaks to all of our hearts, and reminds us of how music truly does bring people together.
Kate Alexander, Associate Director At-Large, will be directing the Summer Mainstage opener. When asked about Cline’s legacy, Alexander was drawn to her empowerment and strength, which was unique compared to the way other female stars were marketed at the time, “Her songs of joy or sorrow are not the songs of the torch singer who is often a victim of her pain, but the siren songs of a woman fully possessed of herself, who knows her power, encompasses her strength, and will remain and return to her magnificence. She will not be broken.”
With the many struggles Cline faced in her personal life, it was evident that she sang from the heart in her music. This honesty and vulnerability is what made her such a compelling performer.
Returning to FST after the 2016-2017 Cabaret, Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves is Meredith Jones as the iconic Patsy Cline. “She inspired me to find my own authentic sound as an artist,” said Jones of Cline’s influence. “She wasn’t afraid to sing boldly, and was always so instantly authentic when you heard her.”
Susan Greenhill will appear as Louise Seger, Patsy’s biggest fan. Susan has appeared on our stages in Southern Comforts, L.A. is Burning, Fiction, Chapatti, The Exonerated, and Shirley Valentine. Greenhill additionally directed Edward Albee’s Occupant in 2008’s Stage III Season.
Appearing as the Bodacious Bobcats Band are Musical Director Dr. Justin P. Cowan on piano, Skip Ellis on Steel and Rhythm Guitar, Chuck Davis on Bass Guitar, and Tony Bruno on the drums. Skip Ellis also appeared in the 2008 FST production of Always…Patsy Cline.