No one doubts that Alaina Richard can sing, but people are asking if she will sound like Patsy Cline.
This is important when the singer in question is playing Cline in a play about Cline.
Well, that’s not totally accurate. It’s easy to assume that Ted Swindley’s play, Always ... Patsy Cline, is about the legendary singer with a voice like no other, but it’s really about something more.
This is where Charlynn White comes in as Louise. No one is concerned about White’s singing voice, simply because Louise doesn’t sing. She talks.
“She talks a lot,” Jack Lampert said. “She talks about as much as Patsy sings.”
And Louise begins talking when she meets Cline at a performance in Houston, then keeps talking as she narrates the story of her friendship with her singer, which ended on March 5, 1963, the night Cline died at age 30 in an airplane crash in Camden, Tenn.
This is what Swindley’s story is really about — friendship. And theater-goers will have a chance to share in this friendship when Baton Rouge Little Theater opens Always ... Patsy Cline on Friday, Nov. 2.
The play has only two characters, along with a six-piece, onstage band.
Louise not only provides narration but also interacts with Cline. And Cline? She sings 27 songs during the course of the story.
Which is why everyone’s asking if Richard’s voice sounds like Cline’s.
“We had the band on stage for rehearsal last week, and they said, ‘Yes,”” Jeff Yurek said.
He’s the play’s music director, and Lampert is the director.
Lampert, in fact, was working at the Stages Repertory Theatre in 1988, when Swindley debuted his play there. Always ... Patsy Cline was an instant hit with the Houston audience and has since been produced in theaters throughout the world.
“We had 16 girls audition for the role, and Alaina stood out,” Lampert said.
There’s a reason why. Richard’s grandfather was a huge Patsy Cline fan, so Richard grew up listening to the singer’s recordings. She knows the songs, the trademark nuances in Cline’s voice, even the feeling Cline put in every word.
“She’s really captured it,” Lampert said. “And she’s done a beautiful job.”
Cline was born Virginia Patterson Hensley on Sept. 8, 1932. She was best known for her rich tone, emotionally expressive and bold contralto voice and her role as a country music industry pioneer, paving the way for women as headline performers in the genre.
She also was part of the early 1960s Nashville sound and successfully crossed over into popular music.
And she was already well into her career when she met Louise. Yes, Swindley’s story is true.
“The only thing that isn’t true is that Louise is a comedic character,” Lampert said. “She was quiet and reserved in real life.”
Louise Seger was her full name. She met the star at a 1961 performance in a Houston honky tonk. The two began talking, and the night ended with Cline eating eggs and bacon at Louise’s house.
“They had a lot in common,” Lampert said. “Louise was divorced, and Patsy had divorced her first husband. And they both had been in abusive relationships.”
The friends became pen pals and exchanged letters until Cline’s death, with Cline signing every letter, “Love always ... Patsy Cline.”
“Even at the peak of her career, she still considered herself one of the guys,” Richard said.
“Her hometown planned a big celebration for her, but she thought it was crazy. One of her mottoes was, ‘I don’t want to be rich; I just want to live good.’”
Behind Richard is the kitchen table where she will visit with White’s Louise. Beside the table is a stage with an old-fashioned microphone, and on the other side of the stage is a jukebox.
The story will move from the honky tonk to Louise’s kitchen to the Grand Ole Opry. The band will be ever-present on the Opry stage, and White will join Richard in singing a couple of the songs.
But the spotlight definitely will belong to Richard during the singing segments.
“Now, when she sings ‘Crazy,’ it’s going to be more of a monologue than it is a song,” Yurek said.
“Patsy tells a story from her life during the song and sings in between. The song will be there, but so will her narration.”
“We also have two understudies in this play,” Lampert said. “Margaret Abrahams is the understudy for Patsy, and Dana Lux is the understudy for Louise. They will perform in two performances of the play.”
Richard takes her place on the Opry stage at this moment and begins singing, “You Belong to Me.”
Everyone else in the theater is suddenly silent.
Richard’s voice is soothing, filled with emotion.
She’s Patsy Cline.