By Aaron Krause
It’s not often that a world-famous star sings a lullaby to your child at night while visiting your house.
Yet, that is what happened in the early 1960’s after Houston housewife Louise Seger welcomed her idol, world-famous singer Patsy Cline, into her home.
At least, that is what occurs in Always…Patsy Cline, a cross between a memory play, historical piece, and jukebox musical that is receiving an admirable production in Lauderhill.
Specifically, the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center (LPAC), the City of Lauderhill, and Arts Center Management mounted the production, which Michael Ursua sensitively directs. It runs through April 16 at LPAC as the last production in the inaugural Broadway at LPAC season.
Ted Swindley created and originally directed the show, which he based on a true story.
Chances are, you have heard of Cline (1932-1963). After all, many considered her one of the most influential vocalists of the 20th century. Further, Cline was one of the first country music artists to cross over into pop music. And, in 1973, she became the first female performer to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
However, Seger may be an unfamiliar name to you. The Jackson, Miss. native, Houston housewife, and divorcee with two children was a huge Cline fan. In fact, she would often call the local radio station to request that they play Patsy Cline songs. So, you can imagine Seger’s reaction when she spotted Cline alone at a Texas honky-tonk before a performance. Actually, you do not have to imagine the reaction. That is because actor Suzanne Dunn vividly and believably portrays Seger in this co-production of Always…Patsy Cline.
With blonde hair and blazing dark eyes, Dunn imbues Seger with contagious enthusiasm and nails a southern accent. Excitement emanates from her voice, and the actor, communicating with her entire body, excitedly shares Seger’s experiences with audience members.
The show alternates between Seger sharing memories of her time with Cline and performances of her hits. The musical also features audience participation, so if you are the shy type, you may not want to sit close to the action.
“In no time we (were) talking like we’ve known each other all our lives,” Seger tells us.
The two women shared much in common and apparently understood each other. In fact, Cline and Seger continued a correspondence via letters up until the former’s death in 1963 at age 30 as a result of an airplane crash.
The show’s title stems from the fact that Cline signed her letters to Seger with the words “Love Always, Patsy Cline.”
In Always…Patsy Cline, the legend sings nearly 30 hits that helped make her famous. In this production, the dark-haired Allyson Rosenblum radiates charm and charisma while convincingly portraying Cline without mimicking the legend. In addition, Rosenblum sings with a soulful voice, similar to Cline’s. Listen, and you may hear an aching quality and a sense of yearning. In addition, Rosenblum can clearly hit high notes and sustain a note for an impressive amount of time.
The show’s order of songs does not necessarily make sense within the context of the story. For instance, Seger tells the audience that she and Cline sat around her kitchen table “and we just poured our hearts out.” The song that follows is “Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray.” Basically, it describes an incident during which a stranger disrupts things between two lovers.
By contrast, the song “If I Could See the World (Through The Eyes of a Child),” more logically follows Seger telling us that Cline sang a lullaby to her little boy. Ursua adds a nice touch to the song by having Rosenblum hold a Teddy Bear while singing the number.
In addition to music and touching anecdotes, Swindley, the show’s creator, included humor. For example, Seger tells us that she called the local radio station to inform them that Cline was at her house.
“He said ‘Louise, honey, what have you been drinking,’” Seger tells us. The person at the radio station continued: “And I have Marilyn Monroe right here in bed with me.”
However, in the show, Seger is sincere when she describes to us what meeting Cline in person meant to her.
“It was like finding the sister I never had,” she says.
Always…Patsy Cline includes touching details such as the aforementioned quote. Also, it makes the fact that Cline visited Seger’s house seem credible. Specifically, we learn that Cline did not have her own transportation before the show in Houston. Therefore, she arrived at the performance in a cab. When the star told this to Seger, she suggested that she could take her back to the hotel. Or, better yet, she could first stop by Seger’s home for a visit.
In addition to narrating the story, Seger dances while Cline sings, backed strongly by a live group called The Bodacious Bobcats Band, featuring keyboards, pedal steel guitar, bass, fiddle, guitar, and drums.
While much of the piece focuses on the two women’s relationship, the story loses momentum toward the end of the first act. That is when Always…Patsy Cline becomes little more than a concert. Fortunately, the show regains its focus.
In addition to recreations of Cline’s music led by David Nagy, Always…Patsy Cline reminds us that friendships can run deeper than adding somebody to your list of Facebook friends or following someone on Twitter. Also, the show brings to mind a time when instant gratification did not instantly satiate us. During that time, instead of e-mail, people wrote letters to each other, a practice that is not nearly as prevalent in 2023 as in, say, the 1960’s.
In addition to quality performances, the production features quality design. Behind the scenes, scenic designer Cindi Blank Taylor has created a wide playing space divided into three areas. On stage right, we see what looks like a realistic kitchen. Colors such as white, blue, red, and brown combine to form an inviting space. It includes appropriate details such as a rotary phone and fruit atop a Frigidaire. Meanwhile, Taylor uses center stage for a spacious performance area at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. The musicians sit behind the set. Finally, on stage left, we see what resembles a realistic bar complete with details such as a karaoke machine, glasses for drinking, and pictures of stars such as Johnny Cash.
Also, behind the scenes, Ashley Gamba designed appealing costumes from the Phoenix Theater Company, while Thomas Shorrock’s lighting design is often dim, apropos for a memory play. In addition to focusing the performers, the lighting establishes an appropriate mood. Christian Taylor deftly designed the sound, allowing us to hear and understand the performers.
The plot of Always…Patsy Cline may remind you of another show in which a celebrity’s devoted fan takes her hero into her home. Yet, this show is nothing like the play, Misery” based on Stephen King’s 1987 novel about a crazed and obsessed fan “nursing” her favorite writer to “health.” Indeed, the fan, Annie Wilkes, became fictional novelist Paul Sheldon’s captor. But Seger brought joy, not misery, into Cline’s life, and vice versa.
“Always…Patsy Cline” runs thru April 16 at the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center, 3800 N.W. 11th Place in Lauderhill. For tickets, go to Always…Patsy Cline – Lauderhill Performing Arts Center (LPAC) – Lauderhill – Mar 30, 2023 | Showpass.