Falling to pieces … for Patsy
Post Independent Arts Writer
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
CARBONDALE, Colorado – Patsy Cline is someone who makes you wonder. What if this singing phenom hadn’t died in a plane crash when she was just 30 years old? What if she had decided to drive instead of fly home to Tennessee on that fateful night in 1963?
Of course, we’ll never know, but the mystique surrounding this young woman with the amazingly rich and soulful voice continues, nearly 50 years after her death.
“Always … Patsy Cline,” a music bio, opens this week at the Thunder River Theatre in downtown Carbondale, a collaborative effort between Thunder River Theatre Company (TRTC) and Aspen Stage.
Created by Houston playwright Ted Swindley in the early ’90s, the musical has played off Broadway and in numerous venues across the country, in the United Kingdom and in Australia. This is the third time TRTC has presented the bio-musical.
For Jeannie Walla, who plays the legendary singer, it was Cline’s appeal as well as her voice that set her so far apart from the rest.
“Patsy was the first crossover artist,” Walla said. “She had an equal following among pop audiences as well as country. Her voice was unique and unvarnished, so there was an instant recognition of her sound.”
Even after her death, she is admired and her work is respected.
“She was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame posthumously,” said Lon Winston, TRTC’s executive artistic director and founder. “People loved her.”
And apparently, they still do.
The 1985 film “Sweet Dreams” focused on this major musical force, as does “Always … Patsy Cline.” Today, her music is continually rediscovered, played and recognized. New batches of 21st century artists cover her songs.
The musical’s story follows an actual friendship between Cline, played by Walla, and a female fan, Texas housewife Louise Seger, played by Cara Daniel. The two became friends just two years prior to the singer’s death.
Seger had ardently admired Cline and her music since she first heard her sing in 1957. She finally met the famous singer in 1961 when Cline was on tour in Texas.
The music bio is a two-woman show. Walla is a veteran of Aspen Community Theatre, and a former Crystal Palace performer – part of an admired group of local performers who worked at the famed Aspen dinner theater, including many cast members of the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue such as Tom Erickson, Gary Daniel, John Goss and Jennetta Howell.
This is the fourth time Walla has played Cline in the music bio, and the third time at Thunder River Theatre. Still, Walla said preparing for the production always involves a lot of research and observation.
“I watch videos of Patsy and have read lots of books,” she said. “I try to immerse myself in her work.”
The role requires the extra task of recreating Cline’s voice – as much as possible.
“Once I remind myself of how the musical arrangements go for this particular show, I follow up by only listening to Patsy herself to get her sound in my head,” Walla said. She rehearses to “shape my sound, including the position of my mouth, to replicate that ‘Patsy’ sound.”
Walla said she doesn’t impersonate Cline, but instead tries to embody her.
“I try to walk like she did, talk and laugh her way so that people come away with a real sense of her,” she said.
A seasoned theater professional, Cara Daniel plays the fan-turned-friend Louise Seger, a heartfelt and often comedic role, according to Walla.
“Louise shares wonderful and hilarious stories throughout the play,” said Walla, “and tells the legend of Patsy in a wonderful, disarming way.”
Integral to the production is a six-member band, featuring some of the finest musical talent in the Roaring Fork Valley. Called The Bodacious Bobcats, the band is busy, since the musical features 27 of Cline’s songs, including “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “Sweet Dreams,” “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces,” and of course, “Always.”
Band members include Dave Johnson, JD Martin, Bobby Mason, Geoffrey Morris, Larry Thompson and Randy Utterback.
The real Louise Seger joined her friend Patsy in 2004 when she succumbed to complications from emphysema.
And Cline’s life, of course, was cut short, compelling her to become a member of an unfortunate collection of famous musicians who have died prematurely when flying as passengers in plane crashes – among them, Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, Ronnie Van Zant and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
We’re fascinated about what could have been. And we’re reminded that even their celebrity could not keep the forces of gravity from taking them down.
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Imagine Glenwood and The City of Glenwood Springs is slated to host a virtual town hall at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 11.