Somewhere between a two-person play and a spot-on tribute concert, San Luis Obispo Repertory Theatre's Always...Patsy Cline is the epitome of a feel-good show. At least that's how director Kevin Harris described the playhouse's latest production. The musical, which features a live band and more than two dozen of the late country star Patsy Cline's greatest hits, will show until March 8 at SLO Rep.
Other than The Bodacious Bobcats—the five-person band that backs up Patsy's voice throughout the show—the cast consists of just two actresses: Greta Kleckner as Cline, and local Suzy Newman as her good friend, Louise Seger.
Newman's animated, Southern-accented monologues tell us the true story of Louise, the Patsy Cline super-fan whose passion for the country star led them to become lifelong friends. Set at one of Patsy's "honky-tonk" concerts in Texas, Louise insists that her party arrive an hour and a half early to secure seats. While waiting for the show to begin, Louise spots her idol across the venue, practicing some tunes before the show begins.
After making her acquaintance, Patsy asks Louise to help her gain some control over her upcoming show, which the building management seems to not be taking very seriously. In a hilarious moment of white-lie bonding, Louise pretends to be Patsy's manager. She turns out to be perfect for the job: Her unabashed admiration for Patsy means that Louise is willing to "make a fool of herself" for the singer, whose songs she requests multiple times a day on the local radio.
For Harris, the show director, this scene is one of his favorites in the production, as it solidifies the wholesome friendship that inspired the play.
"It is the epitome of a feel-good show. It's two hours of unbelievable music, and you walk out of the theater not only feeling glad that you went to the theater, but feeling grateful that art exists," Harris said. "That's the greatest compliment that any good show can give to the community."
In between scenes like this one that define Patsy and Louise's unique bond, Kleckner's stellar renditions of Patsy's greatest hits transport audience members back to the early 1960s, the years when Patsy was one of the most prominent country voices in America.
An actress based in New York, Kleckner was chosen for Patsy's role from more than 350 submissions, Harris said.
"Looking for that one special thing, you have no idea what it is until you see it," Harris said of the casting process. "[Kleckner] just had this charm and humor about her, and just an absolutely dynamite voice."
- Photos Courtesy Of Rylo Media Design, Ryan C. Loyd
- BELTING IT OUT Greta Kleckner's impressive pipes do great justice to the late Patsy Cline's top hits in Always...Patsy Cline.
Though the show is overwhelmingly upbeat and light, anyone who knows the story of Patsy Cline's life knows that it involves a tragic ending. And, after watching Louise become so fond of not just her idol but her close friend, this ending is all the more heartbreaking to watch unfold on stage. At just 30 years old, Patsy was killed in a plane crash after playing three consecutive shows at a benefit concert.
When Louise learns of the news, it's a sobering and poignant moment. Newman's ability to capture it is breathtaking: Her character goes from exceptionally happy-go-lucky to experiencing the utmost grief, and Newman doesn't miss a beat between Louise's emotional states.
Despite such a short life, Patsy left an indelible mark on American music.
"She managed to, in the course of 30 years, become one of the most significant players in all of music history, which is an incredible legacy," Harris said. "This show does a great job of honoring that legacy, but also humanizing her ... to be able to see who the actual human being was." Δ
Arts Writer Malea Martin is humming along to 'Walkin' After Midnight.' Send arts story tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.