St. Vincent Summer Theatre closes season with ‘Always … Patsy Cline’
The musical “Always … Patsy Cline” is filled with songs — 27 to be exact — made popular by in the late ’50s and ‘60s country music star.
But the show being staged by Saint Vincent Summer Theatre is more than a rundown of her hit records that include “Crazy,” “Sweet Dreams” and “Walking After Midnight,” according to Gregory Brandt, producing artistic director and director and professor of theater at Saint Vincent College.
It will run Aug. 1-11 and is its final production of the season.
“The show is based on a true story about Cline’s friendship with a fan named Louise Seger, who befriended the star in a Texas honky-tonk in 1961 and continued a correspondence with Cline until her death in a plane crash at the age of 30 in 1963,” says Brandt, who directs the show.
The title of the musical was inspired by Cline’s letters to Seger that were signed, “Love Always, Patsy Cline.”
Iconic music defines show
He said he knew that the show — in its 30th anniversary year — would be a popular choice with patrons with its iconic music and charming story about Patsy’s life. Portraying the two characters at Saint Vincent are Greta Kleckner as Patsy and Becky Barta as Louise.
“The challenge that comes with directing this show is really paying tribute to Patsy’s classic hits through the endless country music,” Brandt says. “Sticking to the time period and style is important, but it almost runs by itself because these two ladies have the impeccable talent needed to tell this heart-warming story through beautiful music.”
Kleckner, who grew up in Annapolis, Md., and lives in New York City, is playing the title role for the first time.
“I believe her story is universal. She desired real friendships and true love in the midst of intense heartbreak, loneliness and pain,” she says. “That authenticity of desire came through in every note she sang, and her fame reached as far and wide as it did when she was alive, and even more so after her tragic death, because her fans felt known and understood by listening to her.”
Her biggest challenge is in playing a character that was a real person that people remember.
“No one can ever be her – there was only one, which is what made her so special. My challenge as an artist is to bring her music and soul to life in an authentic way,” Kleckner says.
She has performed in national tours of “Elf” and “Damn Yankees” and has acted in Saint Vincent productions of “Nunsense,” “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” and “Cole,” as well as in shows for Pittsburgh Musical Theater and several other regional theaters.
A new stage, a familiar role
Barta, who hails from Kansas City and lives in New York City, is making her Saint Vincent debut in this show. She is very familiar with both roles, having performed in 29 past productions of it on stages from New York (Off-Broadway) to California – 20 as Patsy and nine as Louise.
She described her character Louise as being Patsy’s biggest fan, feisty, funny and with a big heart, “but she also is very prideful which might get her in trouble sometimes. She really was a woman ahead of her time.”
She also had the rare opportunity of actually befriending “the real Louise” before her passing.
“I’m very aware that I’m telling her story for her and want to get it right,” Barta says. “Also, knowing that the playwright, Ted Swindley, has crafted such a beautiful play, I want to speak his words correctly and convincingly. For me, it’s a two-hour monologue.”
Barta has performed on Broadway and in national tours of “Les Miserables,” among other shows in New York. She also acted for Pittsburgh CLO in “Titanic,” “The Full Monty,” “The Sound of Music” and “A Little Night Music.” Her CD, “Crazy and Then Some,” was recorded with her husband, musician David Sonneborn.
Brandt says “Always … Patsy Cline” is complete with raw emotion, down-home country humor and some audience participation.
“It’s a country music history lesson to the ‘T’” he says. “Anyone who appreciates any form of music and would like to learn something about an iconic country star should come to this show. You will be thoroughly entertained.”
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.