Honky Tonk Angel
Powerful performances and phenomenal singing bring an ole time country singin’ sweetheart to life in Always … Patsy Cline
I am too young to have been around during the hey-day of Patsy Cline’s sweetly affecting music. I am too young to have been one of those men or women who wanted to wrap her up, take her home, be her best friend—or even be her. Miss Cline’s cherubic face and legendary voice warmed millions of hearts, but her face and voice were sadly left only in the form of film and records when she died in a plane crash at the age of 30.
Lucky for us, she has been reincarnated into the body of Lee Anne Mathews who becomes Patsy Cline in Reno Riverfront Theatre’s performance of Always…Patsy Cline.
Not knowing much about Cline, I had to rely on the whispers and intermission banter of older theatregoers for their impressions of Mathews as Cline. “Her voice is almost perfect, isn’t it?” “She sounds just like her.” “It’s clear she’s worked really hard on getting [Cline’s] voice down.”
The play, which was made in association with Gunmen Productions, opens with Mathews as Cline singing “Honk Tonk Merry Go Round” at what is supposed to be that well-known hub of the country music world—The Grand Ole Opry. She is elegant and charming. As she transitions from one song into another the audience claps, clearly recognizing every new ballad she begins. As Cline sings, a cute, big-haired woman comes on stage and turns her radio up, tuning in to the Grand Ole Opry performance.
This woman is Louise Seger, played bubbly and larger-than-life by Kristin Moffitt. Seger is there to tell us the story of Patsy Cline and to talk about her own interactions with the country diva.
Featuring 27 of her most popular songs, the play would simply be a Cline concert were Seger not there. But based on the true story of the friendship between Cline and her biggest fan, pen pal and friend, Seger shows us a picture of the mother, wife and the down-to-earth woman behind the singing sensation.
Seger says she fell in love with Cline, like so many other people, that first time she heard her sing “Walkin’ After Midnight” on the Arthur Godfrey Show. Mathews’ performance of this song is first rate as is the song she sings shortly after, “I Fall to Pieces,” which showcases her amazing vocal range. Talented musicians, The Bodacious Bobcats, back up the singer.
Seger says, “That sounds like how I always wanted to sing.” And from this point on, she becomes obsessed with Cline, requesting the local radio station to play her songs at least four times a day.
When Seger hears that Cline is coming to her hometown, she gets to the concert almost two hours early and gets to meet Miss Cline in all her glory. Cline ends up staying the night at Seger’s house, and the two become very close before parting ways but maintaining their friendship through letters. We get a picture of the short-lived but moving bond between these two seemingly different women.
In real life, Cline had already had two brushes with death. She became very sick in her teens and got into a bad car accident with her brother in her early 20s. The last words she said to a friend who warned her to be careful before making her flight home to Nashville were, “Honey, I’ve been in two bad ones … the third one’ll be a charm or it will kill me.”
Cline died on March 5, 1963 and mourners at her funeral backed up traffic for five miles. Fortunately we have plays like this one that can almost fool us into believing Pasty Cline is still alive and well and belting out her tunes.