After Louise Seger first heard Patsy Cline singing “Walkin’ After Midnight” on the Arthur Godfrey Show in 1957, she became a devoted and committed fan, eventually pestering her local radio station in Houston to play Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces” every single morning without fail. When Seger heard that Cline would be appearing at the Esquire Ballroom, she insisted on arriving with her friends an hour and a half early to secure a table; after seeing Cline arrive alone and then look around, she approached her. Cline greeted Seger and told her she was concerned that the band, which was new to her, would not get the rhythms of the songs right. Seger — who knew every note, intonation and beat by heart — agreed to help the musicians keep time. Which she did, leaping onto the stage and thumping out the beat throughout the set with great and comic enthusiasm — at least as played by Alicia K. Meyers in the BDT Stage production of Always...Patsy Cline, creating a character as starstruck as a schoolgirl and as tough as old Texas boots.
After the performance, Seger invited the singer to her home for bacon and eggs. Once there, Cline took off her shoes, put on an apron and helped cook. Then the two sat at the kitchen table, where they talked for hours. This single encounter resulted in a friendship that continued through letters and phone calls — some in the wee small hours of the morning — over the years, until Cline’s tragic death in a plane crash at the age of thirty.
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The true-life friendship between these two women provides the framework for the musical, but the script, based on letters and an interview with Seger, doesn’t do it much justice. Seger tells us that she and Cline talked about their lives, families, joys and sorrows as if they’d known each other for years, but author Ted Swindley hasn’t bothered to imagine even a snippet of the actual conversation. As a result, neither the women’s individual characters nor their relationship are given much depth.
But that doesn’t really matter here, because the evening is all about music, the songs — ranging from country to pop, with a touch of Cole Porter (“True Love”) — are well chosen, and Norrell Moore plays Patsy Cline. I last saw Moore earlier this year as Yitzhak, a Jewish drag queen from Zagreb, Croatia, in Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Aurora Fox, where she was mercilessly bullied and repressed by Hedwig — at least until a final moment of joyous self-discovery and liberation. I also have a clear image of Moore as Princess Fiona in BDT Stage’s Shrek four years ago, engaged in a farting match with the monstrous green hulk of the title (a scene that had my grandsons rolling around with laughter). Here, wearing a glimmering silver dress and accompanied by music director Neal Dunfee’s excellent five-man band, she has a chance to show off her chops as a singer.
Turns out that Moore has it all: a soft croon, a low chest-deep register, a powerful belt, lovely lyricism and rollicking speed. She can sound very much like Patsy Cline herself while maintaining a humor and eccentricity that strikes me as pure Norrell Moore. She’s also convincing as the warm, unpretentious woman that the private Patsy Cline clearly was.
The playing space at BDT is perfect for intimate girl talk and up-front musical pleasures, and the laughing, weeping, toe-tapping audience for Always...Patsy Cline clearly agrees.
Always...Patsy Cline, presented by BDT Stage through May 20, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, bdtstage.com.