From the minute Patsy Cline’s biggest fan demands “How y’all doin’?” you just know it’s just a matter of time before she’s side-by-side with the singer, doing the swim to “Stupid Cupid.” Watch out, front row and bald-headed men, the spotlight's headed your way too.
“Always … Patsy Cline,” returns to Stages St. Louis, as do its stars, through June 22. This time, it's performed at the intimate Westport Playhouse, which puts the best seats nearly inside the mid-century kitchen, complete with chrome-edged table and vintage linoleum floor.
It's based on the true story of Houston fan and single mom Louise Seger (Zoe Vonder Haar) and her friendship with Patsy Cline (Jacqueline Petroccia). In the two years before Cline was killed in a plane crash at the age of 30, the pair poured out their hearts in letters to each other, with the star signing off, “Love always, Patsy Cline.”
If Petroccia’s haunting voice and the Bobcats' backup music don’t hook you, Seger's Texas-size personality will. But Vonder Haar's portrayal of Seger is equally powerful in the moments in which she pulls in. As she quietly listens to Cline belt “I Fall to Pieces,” you can observe, at turns, the shadows of joy and sorrow flit across her face as if lit by a 1960s Christmas color wheel as she surely contemplates her own lost love while Cline cries out, “You want me to pretend we never met.”
Mind your own face as you take in Cline’s signature songs and Seger’s sassiness. If Vonder Haar’s Seger thinks you’re nodding in silent agreement, she may just drag you into the story.
After Seger announces she’s happily “dee-vorced,” she zeroes in on a woman in the front row, who shrinks back when Seger says, “I can tell by your laugh you know what I’m talkin’ about!” Later, when Cline sings, “There’s always a man to blame,” Seger shoots the woman a look and says, “Amen to that!” and the reluctant front-row Amen-sister mutters, “Why is she doing this?”
Other audience members are more game for interaction. When Seger goes looking for bald heads to kiss, there’s no shortage of willing candidates. And when she needs a dance partner, the man credited with bringing “Always” to Westport graciously acquiesces to his 15, well maybe, five minutes of fame, ending with a fancy dip, orchestrated by Vonder Haar.
As an audience member, you might get more than just attention. A $25 gift certificate to Paul Mineo’s Trattoria went to a woman who happened to know the location of the nightclub where Seger and Cline first met.
So when you go online to order your ticket, spend some time brushing up on Houston trivia, because, free food! You might also stumble upon a musical jewel or two, like Cline singing “I Fall to Pieces” on “The Glenn Reeves Show” on Feb. 23, 1963 -- only 10 days before her death.
And here's a sample of what you'll see on stage at Westport in this Stages promotional video.
So what if you can occasionally hear the "New York" in Petroccia's voice or that Vonder Haar's delivery of the news that Cline is dead feels rushed? Stages' "Patsy Cline" is crazy-good ... always.
Disclosure: Nancy Fowler's daughter is employed by Stages St. Louis.
‘Always… Patsy Cline’
Where: The Playhouse at Westport Plaza, 111 Westport Plaza, 63146
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 4 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through June 22
How much: $53-$63
Tickets/Information: Stages St. Louis website
Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL