When you’re looking for a Patsy Cline, you need a certain age – the singer’s career spanned just 15 years – and a certain look.
Most of all, when it came to casting the star of a story told mostly through song, the director of “A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline” was looking for a certain set of pipes.
Alyssa Day, a 27-year-old Spokane actress who grew up listening to country music, delivered.
“The biggest thing is the voice, and Alyssa just knocks it out of the park,” said Jhon Goodwin, who’s directing the cast of just two for the show, which will open Friday at Spokane Civic Theatre’s studio theater.
Day, who started preparing months before auditions, said it was a chance to snag a role that departed from the “young female ingénue sopranos” she’s played in the past.
She’d been familiar with the singer – “Crazy” was her go-to karaoke song – but undertook an intense, self-taught Cline course, listening to her music, reading about her life and watching YouTube videos of her performances.
She learned to shape her words like Cline and move like Cline and sing like Cline. Among the challenges: capturing Cline’s rich contralto. Lots of practice, including work with her own vocal coach and the music director on “A Closer Walk,” helped her grow comfortable singing at the low end of her own range.
A so-called jukebox musical, “A Closer Walk” uses narration and song to reflect Cline’s evolution as a performer. Cline started performing at 15; she was 30 when she died in a plane crash in 1963.
Day’s costuming will reflect those changes in part, as she trades peasant dresses for ball gowns. But her renditions of Cline’s repertoire also will reflect the singer’s maturation and her crossover from country music to pop.
Early footage of Cline reveals a somewhat-naïve performer, Goodwin said. After surviving a major car crash, loves lost and gained, and two children, “you see this very stately, controlling-the-stage professional by the time she’s done. Alyssa’s doing a very nice job of capturing that.”
Day is joined on stage by Spokane actor Scott Miller, 43, who plays Little Big Man, a country-radio DJ, along with three comics. His characters share narration duties.
The script offers little information about the comics’ characters, he said. Luckily, again, there was YouTube. He watched videos of comedians working during Cline’s era – Andy Griffith, Henny Youngman, Milton Berle.
He learned there’s a science to stand-up: “Put the wrong emphasis somewhere or an inflection somewhere where it doesn’t make sense, and the entire joke can fall flat.”
“A Closer Walk” will be the second Cline show in a season in Spokane. Interplayers Theatre closed “Always … Patsy Cline” on Oct. 6. While “Always” is told from the point of view of a Cline “superfan,” Goodwin said, “A Closer Walk” makes a closer study of the singer.
“We’re coming up on the 50th anniversary of her death, and it felt like a timely thing to do,” Goodwin said. “If there’s a town around that’s going to support two Patsy shows, it’s going to be Spokane.”
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