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Always, Patsy Cline

The late country star's story, as told by her biggest fan

Tiffany Walker Porta and Lynne R. Sigler are BFFs.

By Ashlea Browning | Posted 6/24/2010

Always, Patsy Cline

By Ted Swindley

Through July 25 at Toby's Dinner Theatre of Baltimore

If you didn’t know who Patsy Cline was before, you certainly will after watching Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Baltimore's rendition of the country musical, Always, Patsy Cline. The legendary country singer is brought to life through the memories and stories of one of Cline’s biggest fans and closest friends, Louise Seger.

The show opens with an early Patsy Cline concert, probably around mid to late 1950s. The center stage is set up as a club, including her accompanying band for the show, the Bodacious Bobcats. After the first song, “Honky Tonk Merry Go Round,” you meet Louise Seger (Lynne R. Sigler), who appears on one of the two side stages, vividly recounting the first time she ever heard “that voice.” Louse provides the narrative for the entirety of the show by telling her story of meeting Patsy Cline (Tiffany Walker Porta) and the two women’s ongoing pen-pal friendship that ensued.

Two of Patsy's background singers (Sarah Beth Pfeifer and Elizabeth Hester) double as Louise’s slightly bratty kids, who used to watch Cline perform on TV with their mom. The third background vocalist (Kelli Blackwell) also plays Hal, the grumpy old disc jockey at the local radio station KIKK where Louise would constantly call in her Patsy Cline requests. It was Hal who tipped her off that Ms. Cline would be playing at the Esquire Ballroom in Houston. So Louise rounded up her boyfriend and her boss in to her pink and black Pontiac, “Sexy Dude,” and headed to the Ballroom, an hour and a half before the band was supposed to start.

Louise had primarily heard Patsy Cline on the radio, and didn’t know exactly what to expect that night, but as soon as Patsy walked into the club, Louise knew it was her and mustered up the courage to introduce herself. After Patsy agreed to come over to their table and have a few Schlitzes, the musician's favorite beer, she went up to perform two shows, inviting Louise to help on a few numbers. Following the performance, Louise invited her back to the house for some bacon and eggs. The two stayed up talking and talking about love, life, heartache, and home. Louise asked Patsy to stay the night because it was getting so late. The next morning, they stopped by the radio station for an interview with Hal, before Patsy left for her next show in Dallas.

After that night, the two continued to write to one another for the next few years. They would talk about their kids, Patsy's music, traveling, and pretty much anything and everything else that close friends share. Their letters provide the narrative for the rest of the play, while Patsy moves throughout the set singing her songs from the time.

The climactic scene when Louise learns of her friend’s passing is so serious and somber in comparison with the upbeat and lively mood of the show overall. You feel truly saddened for the loss of the star that you’ve come to know just as intimately as Louise did many years ago.

The all-female cast made good use of the stage and the audience throughout the performance. They had no trouble getting audience members to clap and sing and even dance along. Sigler stepped right off the stage and danced with a gentleman from the first row during “You Belong to Me."

And the show certainly has its fair share of laughs. Louise’s expressions and mannerisms alone won quite a few giggles from the audience, even before adding in her hilarious impressions of Hal from KIKK.

Porta does well by the late star, captivating the audience much like the original Patsy did. She makes you believe she is Patsy Cline, as though you're watching the real story unfold as it is happening rather than nearly four decades later. By the end, when she performed her last few numbers, the crowd begged for more, shouting out favorite Cline requests, even if they were already performed during the show.

And although most of the crowd was probably at an age where they remembered the original Patsy Cline, even the youngest of audience-goers appeared to enjoy the performance. A little girl sitting nearby with her dad must’ve been about eight or nine years old, and was appropriately very restless while waiting for food and the show to start. She probably didn’t have the slightest clue as to who Patsy Cline was beforehand, but once the music started, that didn’t matter; she was dancing along just the same.

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