“I don’t like country music, but I make an exception for her,” a woman sitting in my row told Veronica, the woman sitting next to me.
The “her” in question was Patsy Cline, and act one of Spokane Valley Summer Theatre’s production of “Always, Patsy Cline” had just ended.
In “Always, Patsy Cline,” we follow the meeting and ensuing friendship between Cline (Andrea Olsen) and Louise Seger (Dana Rose Fleming), a diehard fan from Houston.
The country singer met an untimely death in a 1963 plane crash, but judging from the audience’s reactions, you’d think the real Cline was performing on the Central Valley High School stage.
Every time Olsen and the band began a song, there was a collective gasp of joy from the audience. And just as often, audience members would nudge the person next to them as if to silently say “She’s playing my song!”
In “Always, Patsy Cline,” Seger, from her kitchen (a wonderfully decorated set piece from scenic designer Michael J. Muzatko and scenic artist Sue Mihalic), talks about first hearing Cline, a “chunky country girl,” sing on “The Arthur Godfrey Show.”
We’re then treated with Cline’s performance of “Walkin’ After Midnight” from the show.
Seger then recalls calling local radio station KIKK, which she likened to Coyote Country, over and over again to request Cline’s “I Fall To Pieces,” much to the chagrin of DJ Hal Harris.
Olsen returns to the stage and sings the song, all the while, Fleming has the dreamy look in her eyes of a real fan.
With each venue change, a sign is lowered from the ceiling, making the distinction between one venue and the next.
These musical moments, spread across the production rather than all at once like at a concert, give the audience the chance to fall in love with Cline like Seger did, song by song, performance by performance.
In hilarious detail, Seger tells the audience about learning of and arriving at Cline’s show at the Esquire Ballroom in Houston, which is represented by a bar and a jukebox on the opposite side of the stage.
It’s at this show that the pair first meet and form a lasting friendship and where the audience gets to hear even more from Olsen.
“Come On In (And Sit Right Down),” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Stupid Cupid” and more make the set list.
The pair chats at the Esquire, then continue talking late into the night when Seger brings Cline to her house after the show so she doesn’t have to spend the night alone in a hotel.
Every so often, Olsen gets up from the kitchen table and sings another song: “Three Cigarettes in An Ashtray,” “Seven Lonely Days,” “If I Could See the World (Through the Eyes of a Child).”
The chemistry between Fleming and Olsen is rivaled only by that of the actual Seger and Cline.
An an example, at one point at the Esquire Ballroom, Olsen says her next show is in Houston, instead of Dallas. Fleming corrects her and without missing a beat, Olsen said “That’s why you’re my manager,” calling back to the scene a little earlier in which Seger presented herself as Cline’s manager to the ballroom’s owner.
At another point in the show, Olsen ad libs to Fleming to “pull yourself together” after tissues that Fleming stuffed down her shirt earlier in the show fell out onstage.
Fleming is every part the devoted fan, with a sass level higher than her hair. She interacted with the crowd with ease, even dancing with my seatmate Veronica’s father Ron twice during the show, and wasn’t afraid to look a little silly (like when she talks about driving to the Esquire Ballroom) to tell her story.
And whether performing a slow ballad or an upbeat tune, Olsen, who wore an array of wonderful outfits from costume designer Carolyn Schafer, channeled Cline beautifully, down to the yodel-like runs Cline added to some of her songs.
Her ability to work the crowd and play off of the band would also have made Cline proud.
For their part, the band was the glue that kept each scene, whether it took place in Seger’s kitchen, the Esquire Ballroom or elsewhere, together.
Set up in the middle of the stage the entire show, the band bounced from song to song as expertly as Olsen.
Cline’s career lasted just 16 years, and only really took off in the last six, but still-devoted fans and performances as strong as Fleming and Olsen’s in shows like “Always, Patsy Cline” will keep the singer’s legacy alive for years to come.