Off-Broadway got a li'l taste o' Branson, Missouri and the Grand Ole Opry when country & western stars came out for the grand opening of the musical biography Always...Patsy Cline at the Variety Arts Theatre.
Guests attending the 7 PM premiere included Barbara Mandrell, Louise Mandrell, Phyllis George, Misty Rowe, Charlene Tilton (of TV's "Dallas"), Louise Seiger (who inspired the show) and the late Cline's real-life husband, Charlie Dick. After the show, everybody's chowed down at the Harley Davidson Cafe on Manhattan's 56th Street.
The piece uses only two characters -- Cline and her biggest fan, Louise -- plus an onstage band. Ted Swindley's play with music covers the hard-living life of the country songstress, who died in a plane crash in 1963. She's considered the first woman to cross over from country to pop music. Songs performed in this fictionalized bio include, "I Fall To Pieces," "Walkin' After Midnight," "Blue Moon Over Kentucky" and "Sweet Dreams" (later taken as the title for Jessica Lange's film biography of Cline).
Previews started June 9 for the show, which stars Tori Lynn Palazolla as Patsy and Margo Martindale as Louise. Martindale starred in 1995's The Sugar Bean Sisters at Off-Broadway's WPA Theatre.
Produced by Opryland Theatricals in association with The Randy Johnson Company, Always...Patsy Cline has sets by Christopher Pickart, lighting by Stephen Quandt, costumes by Thom Heyer and sound by Peter Fitzgerald. Vicki Masters is the music director. Author Swindley directs the show, which will be backed by a six-piece orchestra.
A smash hit at Chicago's Northlight Theatre, Cline has extended its commercial run indefinitely at the Apollo Theatre there, where the show was originally scheduled to run through March 23, then extended to May 11. The show was also a big hit at Virginia Stage Company -- so big (the top selling show in VSC's 18-year history) that they're bringing it back for three weeks, July 11-Aug. 3. Jessica Welch plays Patsy, joined by Joy Hawkins as Louise.
Folksinger Megon McDonough appeared as Cline in the original mounting, but went on tour with the folk quartet, "Four Bitchin' Babes," and couldn't be in the Apollo gig, which is produced by Richard Friedman and Rob Kolson in association with the Randy Johnson Company. Instead, Chicago music theatre veteran Hollis Resnick played the lead, recently taken over by Alice Kirwan.
The popular musical has received successful productions at several muscial theatres around the country, and is also set to play at Actors Theatre of Louisville's Binghman Theatre, from July 8 - Aug. 24.
Playwright J. Ted Swindley has directed and produced more than 200 shows in his 15-year career and has received the Los Angeles Dramalogue Award for his work at the Pasadena Playhouse.
Always...Patsy Cline has also found a long-term home at Colorado's Denver Center for the Performing Arts, where the musical bio will reach its second anniversary Aug. 6. Original performers Melissa Swift-Sawyer (Patsy) and Beth Flynn (Louise) are still with the show, which plays at the 200-seat Garner Galleria Theatre.
A cast recording of the original staging is available on MCA CD's and cassettes. That production ran for nearly two years at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium -- home of the Grand Ol' Opry before the theatre was rebuilt. Always...Patsy Cline was the theatre's first tenant after its renovation.
For information on Always...Patsy Cline, at the Variety Arts Theatre on Third Ave., call (212) 239-6200. For more information on the show, check their website at http://www.alwayspatsycline.com.
--By David Lefkowitz