There is no way, no how, that the story behind Always ... Patsy Cline could ever come true today. With celebrities being stalked by the paparazzi and no shortage of Google-happy fans with misguided intentions, the bold-faced set have to shield themselves behind oversized sunglasses, walls of bodyguards and very tall fences.
Through modern days lenses it's a very strange story, but it speaks to the kinder, gentler era of our nation in 1961. Patsy Cline's 1957 release of "Walkin' After Midnight" made her a household name and one of her biggest fans, Houstonian Louise Seger, was dolled up in her cowgirl outfit to see the country star at the Esquire Ballroom on Hempstead Highway.
The events of that fateful night, where Seger befriended Cline, took her home to dish about men during an all night coffee klatch and ended up becoming faithful pen pals, were documented in Ellis Nassour's book, Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline. The local anecdote also formed the basis for the 1988 play by Ted Swindley who, at the time, was artistic director of Stages Repertory Theatre.
This is the third year that Stages has brought productions to Miller Outdoor Theatre, and we'll see veteran Susan Koozin don her bathrobe once again for the now iconic role of the starstruck housewife. Kelley Peters steps into the role of Cline, backed by a six-piece band: piano, pedal steel guitar, lead guitar, bass, fiddle and drums.
"The wonderful Susan Koozin — how many times she has put this production on, the fifth or sixth time — she gets better every single time. This is truly something that needs to be seen," says Peters. "You’re witnessing royalty on stage."
Always ... Patsy Cline has resonated so well with audiences that, for the 1998-1999 season, it had become one of the top ten most-produced plays in America. Now in its 30th year, there are quite a few Houstonians who've seen the production that takes us down a warm and fuzzy memory lane of 27 of Cline's greatest hits, including "Crazy," "I Fall to Pieces" and "Sweet Dreams."
"This show still has that charm. Even though it works well in the black box, where it's produced very intimately, the heart of the show has the power that it works even in a vast theater like Miller Outdoor Theatre. It brings that heart and it brings that humanity to celebrities which I’ve always enjoyed about the play," says Peters. Scenic Designer Kevin Holden has created a new design for the venue and is busy building large pieces of scenery for the two-night run.
Peters says that each production of Always ... Patsy Cline seems to come at just the right time. "Last year during Harvey, we brought the show back when people needed to be entertained, needed to witness a wonderful story and wonderful music.
"Patsy Cline, she doesn't have that fairytale story. She went through many hardships. Loretta Lynn, one of her confidantes, said that by the time she was a woman she had lived a woman’s life. She had to grow up really quickly and her body matured quickly and she didn’t really have that childhood," says Peters. "She used that to her advantage; she became a pioneer."
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The play's longevity also can be credited for developing new devotees. Peters remembers one preview attended by students. "These kids, I’m sure the range was preteen up to high school, they had never ever heard of Patsy Cline before. After the show they were wanting to take photos.
"There are few singers in this world, Patsy Cline is one of them — it could be 2018 or it it could be a different times — but when they sing, specifically when they emote their songs, the way they take their life experiences, it cuts right through you.
"You can completely tell the difference. It just shows that her music and her story can relate to a 15-year-old who has only heard Top 40," adds Peters.
Performances of Always ... Patsy Cline are scheduled for 8 p.m. September 7-8 at Miller Outdoor Theatre, 6000 Hermann Park Drive. For information, call 281-373-3386 or visit stagestheatre.com or milleroutdoortheatre.com, free.