Writing of country-music legend Patsy Cline, journalist Joe Bageant once observed that the singer "took shit from no one and knew cuss words that would make a Comanche blush.... She was one of us. Tough and profane."
As a woman working in the masculine world of country music, Cline likely had to be. Her marriage to Charlie Dick was fabled to have been passionate but abusive. She's rumored to have warred mightily with concert promoters, often refusing to go onstage until she was paid. But she was also deeply loyal to her friends, occasionally paying their rent so they could stay on in Nashville.
This complicated figure is largely absent in Ted Swindley's crowd-pleasing hagiographic jukebox, Always... Patsy Cline, which Stages St. Louis reprised over the weekend after last season's very successful run. Told from the perspective of Louise Seger, an adoring fan who befriended Cline after a chance encounter at a concert, Always... recounts the night of their first meeting. Cline ended up staying the night with Seger, where they ate dinner, talked heartbreak and the next morning appeared on a local radio station. For the next two years they maintained a written correspondence until Cline's death from a plane crash at the age of 30.
In this easy, unblemished portrait of Cline, the singer is presented through adoring eyes as a sweet country girl — one who misses her children and who might just as easily fry up some bacon and eggs, as she would break into song.
The show won't give you much insight into the other aspects of the historical Cline. What it will give you, however, is a tour of Cline's greatest hits, and in the hands of Jacqueline Petroccia, that's saying quite a lot. Petroccia's star-caliber voice has nearly all the range and feeling of Cline's own. And backed by a tight six-piece band, her renditions of songs like "Crazy," "I Fall to Pieces" and "Walkin' After Midnight" sound like near replicas of the original tracks.
It's enough to compensate for the treacly plot, and James Wolk's set is very well crafted, using tiers, scrims and Matthew McCarthy's creative lighting to distinguish Seger's country home from Cline's onstage performances. Under Michael Hamilton's direction, Zoe Vonder Haar also brings a tremendous amount of whooping, towel-twirling energy to the role of Seger. She's a funny and engaging character — all cowboy boots and country sass — singing along to Cline's music as she slurps Schlitz and steps into the crowd to kiss a baldpate or two.
Does the show shed much light on Cline herself? Not really. But that's not the point. We'll always have "Crazy," and given the show's enthusiastic reception on opening weekend, more than a few of us hope we'll always have, well, Always... Patsy Cline.