Since I was somehow seeing Always…Patsy Cline for the first time, I had no visual or vocal baggage to carry into Stages Repertory Theatre. The show has a specific connection to Houston: It is based on the true story of country legend Patsy Cline and her encounter with a Houston super fan named Louise Seger, and Stages premiered the play version back in 1988.
That said, it was thrilling to anticipate this show that was such a significant part of Stages' growth in the local theater scene. I wondered how they would handle the sad and untimely death of Cline from an airplane crash at the young age of 30. But now I can say I shouldn’t have worried. All I had to do was enjoy the genius of putting musical nirvana, laugh-out loud comedy and hurt-your-heart tragedy all side-by-side in one vibrant, memorable show. From the live band taking the stage to the entrance of Kelley Peters as Cline to the final classic songs such as “True Love” and “Bill Bailey,” this high-energy musical production was entertaining from beginning to end.
In a show like this, you have the pressure of channeling an icon, and if you don’t have the vocal talent for this, you have no show. Peters as Cline is superlative, from her wonderful and moving interpretations of Cline’s songs, to her convincing mannerisms and expressions. I loved watching her, and she expertly conveyed the range of songs that earned Cline such devoted fans. From up-tempo pieces such as “Honky Tonk Merry Go Round” and “Stupid Cupid,” to the make-you-cry classics such as “Crazy,” “She’s Got You” and “True Love,” Peters made me realize how versatile Cline really was—maybe even the first artist to really crossover between country and pop.
Susan Koozin’s Louise Seger is not just a foil for Cline; rather, she is a character who serves as a reminder of the power of music to turn us into loyal fans. Koozin can really work the stage, and her master of physical comedy is formidable. From her dead-on Texas accent to her impersonations of the other people in her life, Koozin perfectly delivers her wry and funny lines for an entertaining romp that highlights Cline’s talents in a relatable way. Louise has her own problems—like we all do—but Cline is the perfect antidote to some of the challenges of life.
From her blue eye shadow to her blue jeans, Koozin does the impossible: She partners with Peters in a difficult dance of collaboration so that she shines and interacts with the audience without upstaging Patsy Cline. It is one of those moments when you realize how much theater teaches us about working with each other and the material we are given (and not going rogue). Koozin was so funny that sometimes I was literally laughing out loud—as was everyone around me.
These spot-on performances dovetail well with the live band, great sets and the amazing costume designs of Katherine Snider. From the cowgirl fringe costumes to the glamorous formal dresses in which Cline often performed, it made me long for the beautiful outfits of the ‘50s and ‘60s and regret the grunge and tackiness of so many contemporary performers. Oh well.
I see a lot of shows that I like, but what makes Always…Patsy Cline different is that you can see it over and over again. Just like I will never tire of hearing “Walkin’ After Midnight,” I can’t imagine ever tiring of seeing this production of such an engaging show.