‘Always ... Patsy Cline’ comes with more than a few challenges

Perhaps we misread the playbill. Perhaps Baton Rouge Little Theater just opened its production of “Sometimes Patsy Cline, When She Can Be Heard Over the Band.”

Nope, double-checked. It’s “Always … Patsy Cline.” But the confusion is understandable.

This play, written by Ted Swindley and directed by Jack Lampert, is challenging for a community theater, primarily because there are very few vocalists who can duplicate the famous singer. Had she not died at age 30 and at the height of her stardom in a 1963 plane crash, Cline’s voice might have become iconic, not only in country music, where she began, but into the pop music scene into which she crossed over. She could twang with the best of them, but her vocal range — especially her syrupy lower notes — was what set her apart from the rest of Nashville, giving many of her songs a haunting beauty.

So, while noting that Alaina Richard isn’t Cline reincarnated may be like complaining that this review isn’t written by Ernest Hemingway, there was another problem: The sound mix in the theater did Richard no favors.

That was evident from the opening numbers, “Honky Tonk Merry Go Round” and “Back in Baby’s Arms.” The six-piece band of Terry Byars, Royce Tarver, John Mark Lowry, Josue Elias Ramirez, Ruth Roland and Tom Parsons performed as the house band that played for Cline one night in 1961 in Houston, the “Bodacious Bobcats.” Their sound was good, but in this circumstance it needed to be a little less bodacious.

It was hard to pick up many of the words Richard sang or, during “San Antonio Rose,” much of the dialogue between Richard and Charlynn White in the role of Louise Seger, who met Cline before that performance and formed a friendship that lasted until the singer’s death.

Richard portrayed Cline’s personality winsomely, and her voice was clear, strong and pleasing in the higher, louder and brassier parts of the songs. But her volume could not keep up with the band in the lower ranges and got drowned out. In a production that features more than two dozen songs, that’s a big problem.

“Always … Patsy Cline” isn’t only about music, but the unlikely relationship that developed between Cline and Seger, a single mother and devoted fan. White does a great job playing the sassy and funny Seger, to whom Cline later wrote regularly, signing each letter, “Love always, Patsy Cline.” It’s a two-hour production with plenty of tenderness and humor but not enough, in key moments, of Cline herself.