Bay City Players Showcase the Enduring Magic & Intimate Relationship Forged in ALWAYS...PATSY CLINE

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Theatre,   From Issue 821   By: Robert E Martin

14th January, 2016     0

Always...Patsy Cline is based on the true story of country-great Patsy Cline's friendship with Houston housewife Louise Seger.  Having first heard Cline on the "Arthur Godfrey Show" in 1957, Seger became an immediate and avid fan of Cline's and she constantly hounded the local disc jockey to play Cline's records on the radio. Then in 1961 when Cline went to Houston for a show, Seger and her buddies arrived about an hour-and-a-half early and, by coincidence, met Cline who was traveling alone.

The two women struck up a friendship that was to culminate in Cline spending the night at Seger's house-- a friendship that lasted until Cline's untimely death in a plane crash in 1963. This relationship, which began as fan worship and evolved into one of mutual respect, is the kind of relationship many fans would love to have with their heroes. 

And it is from this true story that the marrow of the hit musical Always…Patsy Cline, which will be performed by Bay City Players in a series of performances from January 15-17 & 22-24th was forged by creator Ted Swindley back in 1988 in Houston, Texas, where he was the founding artistic director of Stages Repertory Theatre.

Over a pot of strong coffee, the two women chatted about their common concerns. When Cline finally left for Dallas, her next job, the two women had exchanged addresses and telephone numbers. Seger never expected to hear from Cline again, but soon after she left, Seger received the first of many letters and phone calls from Cline. Indeed, these pen-pal relationship provides much of the plot of the show.

The play focuses on the fateful evening at Houston's Esquire Ballroom when Seger hears of Cline's death in a plane crash. Seger supplies a narrative while Cline floats in and out of the set singing tunes that made her famous - Anytime, Walkin' After Midnight, She's Got You, Sweet Dreams, and Crazy - -to name a few.

The show combines humor, sadness and reality. And for Bay City Player’s director Leeds Bird, poses several exciting challenges and an incredible opportunity to work with top notch talent.  “This play was performed in New York for a short period of time,” explains Bird. “While not unsuccessful, apart from the musical Oklahoma, name a country oriented show that is going to make it big in New York City. However, across the country in community & repertory theatres, it enjoys consistent success, which I’m glad to say we are witnessing for our own upcoming productions.  Ticket sales have been so good we had to add an additional performance just before Christmas.”

In rendering this work for the Bay City stage, one of the many elements Bird finds fascinating about Louise Seger is how she literally managed & looked after Patsy, before Patsy truly had a knowledgeable handler to guide her career. 

“When Louise finally goes to see Patsy perform and arrives early, she sees Patsy looking the place over, introduces herself, and asks her to come meet her friends,” explains Leeds. “While the two women are talking, Louise asks her how long she’s going to be singing, and Patsy responds, ‘All night’. Decca Records sent Patsy to Houston with no entourage at all, but Louise’s father is involved with music, so Louise asks her how much she is getting paid. And Patsy responds, $350, which isn’t bad back in 1959 or 1960. But Louise is shocked and says, ‘You can’t sing for over 4 hours with a 20-minute break’ and goes to the club owner and says, “I’m Patsy’s manager. We figure two sets from 9:30 to 11:30. So this is one example of the dynamic and fascinating evening of kinship that was forged from this first meeting.”

“Louise tells the entire story to the audience; and this play only features two characters – Patsy & Louise – so this really set things up for what I was looking for in terms of performers,” continues Bird. “Patsy sings 28 songs in the show and our singer, Judy Harrison, lives in Interlochen and works out of Traverse City with her own business. She has two bands that she works with, one being Rebooted, which is Country/Western band. Kevin Cole worked with her years ago and suggested her to me.”

“With a typical musical, such as The Sound of Music, Maria sings maybe 5 songs throughout the production and the rest is song by different members of the cast,” continues Bird. “But given that one character must sing 28 songs throughout this entire production, that’s such a load that the average community theatre performer couldn’t handle it, which is why I went to Judy.”

Bird says this reality also led to his selection of Saginaw actress Debbie Lake to take on the role of Louise Seger. “The same situation existed with filling the role of Louise,” reflects Leeds. “I needed an actress that could pull the show and carry the plot throughout the entire evening, and I’ve worked with Debbie before and recently she directed Bay City Players with Dixie Swim Club. She’s a strong actress and I couldn’t hold auditions and hope for talent with this level of professional expertise to show up.  Sometimes there is a full page and a half of dialogue in the script that the lead actress not only needs to memorize, but also make interesting. So I’m pulling the pieces together and yanking them as tight and solid as possible. So far its all worked out beautifully.”

Bird says Judy has been singing many of Patsy’s songs since she started with her band and is an incredible talent. “Kevin Cole came forward and said to me, “I know you’re working with musicians and setting up a rehearsal schedule, but the only problem I see with the snow is that it needs a Music Director, and I would like to be it.  So that was another pleasant apple in the basket.  Kevin will tweak an arrangement and sometimes alter 4 notes that go a certain way, and all of a sudden you hear that ‘Patsy Cline’ sound in the music that the band performs. It’s been an absolute blessing working with these people.”

Given that much like the magic generated by Frank Sinatra, much of Patsy’s ‘sound’ hinged upon the honestly of her singing to reflect her own life experiences, Bird says Judy wanted to move her vocal readings of Cline’s material beyond that of simply singing the songs. “She wanted to do justice to Patsy as a person, not just as a singer,” states Bird. “Six of the songs featured are incredibly personal because of the way they’re written into the show, so these songs get an especially personal intimate spin.”

“My key objective is to make sure Judy, Debbie, and the band are prepared, concludes Leeds. “The technical crew sill not see everybody together until the week before we open, but I know right now how everything should go.  The band is on stage for the entire performance, but not always part of the scene, so questions of lighting and focus also need to be tackled, but I’m confident people will be in for a pleasant and memorable surprise.”

“Bay City Players can seat just short of 300 people and if you want to see this play, you want it to be in an intimate theatre.  Whenever I go to Chicago to see plays, rarely do I go to a big show. Indeed, the first David Mamet play I ever saw was in a converted firehouse – frankly, there is a rapport you get from the actors on stage when people are 40 feet away from you that you simply cannot realize in a larger venue.”

Always….Patsy Cline will be performed by Bay City Players from January 15-17 and 22 – 24th. Tickets are now on sale by going to www.baycityplayers.com or phoning 989-893-5555. Bay City Players is located at 1214 Columbus in Bay City.

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