She was a country superstar. She remains the kind of country singer for which people who hate country music make an exception. She was a legend. And like so many of the great ones, she died much too soon.
She was Patsy Cline. And there's at least one song of hers that you love, so don't try and deny it.
She's coming to town this week and next, brought back to life via Tulsa Project Theatre's (TPT) latest production.
Always...Patsy Cline tells the story of Cline's friendship with Louise, an unremarkable housewife from Houston. A strong bond forms between the two through the course of the show, with Louise narrating the story through the aftermath of Cline's untimely death in a 1963 plane crash.
Many Tulsa theatergoers will be familiar with the show, as it was a staple of American Theatre Company's repertoire for nearly a decade, anchored by the confident portrayal of the brassy star by Tulsa favorite Janet Rutland.
The 2012 incarnation brings a lot of changes, not the least of which is in the casting. Playwright and director Ted Swindley (also responsible for the "Honky Tonk Angels" series of comedies, also a large chunk of ATC's output for quite a few years) has cast another Tulsa favorite, Carmen Boyd -- audiences will remember her from The Rocky Horror Show, I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, and several others.
Boyd said recently that the role has ended up somewhere out of her comfort zone, and perhaps due to several factors.
"To be perfectly honest, I really didn't know a lot of her stuff. I had no idea she sang some of these songs," Boyd said. And the song titles weren't the only surprise.
"She's Got You."
"When I first got the part, I started doing some research and saw her yodeling and about had a heart attack. As an actor and as a singer, it's caused me to have to stretch a little bit. Ballads, yes. Honky tonk, not so much," she said with a laugh.
Other changes exist in the script, which Swindley has tinkered with in preparation for a 2013 Broadway debut of the show. Todd Cunningham, the driving force behind TPT, said that Swindley's changes are small, with one exception.
"The one big change is the built-in audience participation," he said. "Some country dancers are brought into the Esquire ballroom scene, and they're part of the honky-tonk crowd." This will put audience members on the stage with the actual actors.
"They're going to bring some people up onstage, and they're going to have some people two-stepping, like it would have been done at a real concert of hers," Boyd said.
Perhaps an obvious question in the face of the statement would revolve around how nerve-wracking such a prospect might be from an actor's standpoint.
Another issue that has come up for Boyd as she has prepared for the role is something of an odd-woman-out situation, as Swindley and Peggy Frye, reprising her role as Louise, have extensive experience with the show -- Swindley having written it and Frye having performed it many times with Rutland in the ATC productions.
"Peggy and Ted have worked together several times. I'm sort of in the creative process of learning the show, but they're in the been-there-done-that stage," she said.
Then there's an issue that many actors in town face when working with an out-of-towner of Swindley's stature.
"Ted's been accustomed to more time to get people up to speed on shows," Boyd said. "I have a full-time job and a kid. I'm sure that when he's worked with other people in the past, they were just doing the show and that was all."
Something to fret about? Not so much.
"I decided early on to just keep at it and make this a great show," she said.
While this particular production is not the one moving to the Great White Way, Swindley's work here will greatly inform any further changes that occur.
"Ted is kind of test-marketing it here," Cunningham said.
How Swindley got involved is one of those theater stories that often starts with a conversation and ends up with someone moving to another city. At least for a little while.
Cunningham spoke recently about getting the ball rolling on TPT's first season and recruiting Swindley to help with some of those decisions.
"I called him last fall and started talking to him about it. He was serving as a mentor for me as I planned the season and we were trying to figure out what to do," he said.
With an idea of wanting to bring the Cline piece back to Tulsa audiences already in his head, Cunningham asked Swindley about it, and, as one would imagine, one thing led to another.
"I wanted to do Patsy, and I talked to him about it, and then he started to talk to me about '[Guess Who's Coming to] Seder,' which was a show he was involved with workshopping in New York. He was excited about it and said it was a really good show. So I decided that we wanted to be the company that held the world premiere," Cunningham said.
Cunningham raved about Boyd's portrayal, so maybe her misgivings are just the self-conscious trappings of actorhood.
"Carmen completely embodies Patsy and has really taken on the role with gusto," he said, in full producer mode. "She's just really done a nice job of creating the character without impersonating her. She gives you a great deal of Patsy, but it's not too much. It's not too little. It's just the right amount."
Cunningham may see a Goldilocks zone in Boyd's portrayal, but it's not by accident. Boyd actively avoids doing an impersonation of Cline, she said.
"I prefer to approach this as an actor working to create theater as opposed to a karaoke cabaret show where I'm just a Patsy lookalike," she said.
Always... Patsy Cline stars Carmen Boyd and Peggy Frye and runs March 9-18 in the Tulsa Convention Center's Assembly Hall. Tickets range from $20-$30 and are available at TulsaProjectTheatre.com.
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