One of my fondest childhood memories is my mom singing the songs of Pasty Cline around the house. (I thought she had the most beautiful voice in the world.) The first time I watched Sweet Dreams was with my mom, and it was that movie that introduced me to the Patsy Cline songbook. And I’m not the only diehard fan of the country music legend, as evidenced by the ticket sales of the Hale Centre Theatre production of Always … Patsy Cline.
The show opened in January, 2020, and ran for a few months before Coronavirus forced its shutdown. It came back this March for an additional two-month run. It’s a hot ticket to get, as many shows have been sold out for some time, with new dates being added.
I spoke with one of the stars of the show, Cori Cable Kidder, who once again has stepped into the role of the titular character, a few days after the re-opening March 15. The return to the stage was an exciting one for Kidder who, despite being at only 40 percent capacity, says Hale Theater and its patrons should be proud to be among the first to return live theater to Valley stages.
“We have absolutely extensive sanitation protocols and the behavior around the theater has been wonderful,” Kidder told me. “I’m really proud to be associated with a theater company that’s trying to keep theater alive while also keeping people safe."
After the cut-short 2020 run Kidder — who was stepping into the Cline role for the 4th time! — opted not to return to her home in Los Angeles and instead chose to spend time with her family in her native Arkansas. Not knowing she would be there for almost a year, she ended up working as an assistant to her father, who is a carpenter. She calls that time “a nice reset,” although she is looking forward to getting back to work as an actor.
Playing this role in Always … Patsy Cline, which she has done on-and-off since 2015, has not grown tiresome. In fact, when she closes this production Kidder will head to Salt Lake City to perform the role at Hale Centre’s sister theater. Booked up through the end of the year, it is unclear whether she will put down roots again in Los Angeles, where her things remain in storage, but the AriZoni-nominated actor will always feel like part of the Hale Centre family.
“They have such excellent taste in who they choose to work with and employ,” she said, “They have a love of theater (and) they were instantly like family.”
Kidder opened up about her affinity for this play and character, including her decade-long association with the role, as well as what it is like portraying a music icon and how she is moved by superfans.
How does it feel to be back on stage in front of an audience? Any trepidation?
It feels both amazing and surreal to be back on stage after a yearlong furlough. I want to make sure that the audiences and my co-star and crew feel safe, certainly. If the audiences are ready to be back in the theater with our added safety protocols then I am more than happy to get back to work to bring them Patsy Cline. Patsy feels like home and I'm sure glad to be home.
I have a memory of my mom singing “Crazy” while she would clean the house. I believe her songs are timeless. How long have you been a fan of her music?
Growing up in Arkansas I always knew who Patsy Cline was but I don't recall my family members ever being huge fans. We would listen to The Statler Brothers in grandma's car. My parents are huge music buffs so I've always listened to the "good stuff," but I didn't really become a fan of Patsy until I started learning her music in 2009.
Tell us how you stumbled into what has thus far been a career-defining role for you?
I first saw Always … Patsy Cline in 2006 and I had no idea I could ever sing like that. I was initially drawn to the character of Louise and her storytelling.
I graduated college in 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts in Musical Theater and I got a call from Mike Skiles, the producer of Texas Family Musicals. He was casting a Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and The Big Bopper musical and needed to fill a female singer role. A few weeks into rehearsals he handed me the sheet music for "Blue Moon of Kentucky." I had never tried singing Patsy's music but I had always been a good mimic so I gave it a shot. I quickly realized that I was good at capturing Patsy's vocal quality and I began to learn more of her music. From that point forward it became my mission to play Patsy Cline in Always … Patsy Cline.
In 2015 everything changed. I was living in Los Angeles and working at some of the regional theaters there. A friend of mine messaged me to tell me that a theater called Sierra Madre Playhouse was looking for a Patsy Cline. After my initial audition I was confident but I got a call saying that the creative team was having trouble deciding between myself and another actress for the role. We had two separate callbacks for the role of Patsy. The other actress looked more like Patsy but I knew I could replicate her vocal style. In the end, Sean Paxton, the music director, chose me.
Sean and I spent about 40 hours combing through Patsy's recordings and notating every yodel and flip and growl throughout this 27-song musical. If it weren't for his guidance, I don't think I would be as successful at this role as I have been. I thought I knew something about Patsy's singing but Sean took me to an entirely different level. If you search on YouTube you can find some old videos of my Patsy renditions. Comparing those with my performances after working with Sean is eye-opening.
Robert Marra directed that 2015 production with real finesse and precision. His work coupled with Sean and the band made that show unstoppable. It was supposed to run for six weeks. We ended up playing that theater to sold out houses for four months. I was nominated for an Ovation Award for Best Actress in a Musical by the Los Angeles Theater Community for the role. I was the only woman from a 99-seat theater to receive the honor of a nomination that year. Christian Lebano (the producer at Sierra Madre Playhouse) said the biggest mistake they ever made was closing that show. I'd still like to go back there and do it again someday.
In 2017, Robert Marra got an offer to direct Always … Patsy Cline at Glendale Centre Theatre (one of the Hale Theatres) and told the producer he wouldn't do the show without me as Patsy. That was a big day for me as well — and the production that launched my relationship with the rest of the Hale Theatres.
There’s an added pressure any time an actor steps into the role of a real person. Do you still feel that pressure?
The pressure I feel is to bring a good and consistent performance to the audience. I must have done this show over 500 times and I still get nervous before I step out onto that stage and welcome everyone to the Grand Ole Opry. I'm constantly afraid I'll forget the words to "Crazy" and I'll never work again.
As far as playing Patsy and feeling pressure related to her: after six years of stepping into her shoes I feel a real connection to Patsy Cline. I want to honor her memory and bring joy and fond memories to the people in the audience. If I can connect with the audience and help them forget their troubles for two hours then I have done my job.
Country music artists seem to make for excellent stage and screen material. What do you think it is about Patsy that makes her story (this story) so worthwhile?
Patsy was a wonderful person. She was a real person. Everything she did was big and bold and brave and she did most things out of love. I want to make sure to embody that vitality and honesty and openness in every performance. Today we see a glossy reflection of what celebrities are like. Patsy didn't have that luxury and I don't think she would have embraced it if she did. She knew what she wanted and she wasn't afraid to go after it. She was sexual and smart and did what she thought was right. She had such a hard life and that's really what makes her music so special. Every song she sang was from the heart and often you can hear it breaking. I think everyone can find some kind of connection to Patsy and the struggles she went through.
What is your favorite part of playing Patsy Cline?
Telling her story is definitely a privilege. It's almost indescribable to transcend into her world for a short while. Seeing the audiences connect with different songs during the performance is a highlight. People mouth the words or clap when they hear the intro to their favorite song. That's when I really feel like I'm making a connection — that I'm doing justice to Patsy's work and her story. It really doesn't have anything to do with me. I'm just a vessel and I'm so lucky.
Can you tell me about any encounters you have had with Pasty Cline superfans?
At Hale theaters (pre-pandemic) there would always be a meet-and-greet after the show. My favorite thing is when a fan will call me "you" but they are really referring to Patsy Cline. "You were my mother's favorite," or "I remember listening to you on the radio when I was just a little girl." It is incredibly special to actually become this icon for some people and to see the emotional effect it has on them.
I’m sure there is a certain demographic that turns out for this show. But why should young people, who may know little or nothing about Patsy Cline, give it a shot? What will they get out of it?
Certainly, there are many of The Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers who love Patsy's music and come out to hear some of the tunes from their younger years. I think this show has something for everyone. It feels like home. It is warm and funny and hopefully you'll enjoy the singing 😉 Patsy's story is one of hardship and struggle and perseverance. It's universal. She achieved her dreams and I think younger people should hear her story and feel empowered. I bet we all have a lot in common with Patsy Cline.
Always … Patsy Cline runs at Hale Centre in Gilbert through April 27. For tickets visit haletheatrearizona.com.
Rufus Wainwright brings his early stuff to the Valley
Queer artist Rufus Wainwright has been entertaining audiences for more than two decades, and many LGBT fans hold a special fondness for his early albums, as this demographic was among the first to recognize and appreciate the man and his work. In the show he is bringing to Scottsdale later this month, Wainwright will perform songs exclusively from his second and third albums, Poses and Want One.
Praised by the New York Times for his “genuine originality,” Rufus Wainwright has established himself as one of the great male vocalists, songwriters, and composers of his generation. The New York-born, Montreal-raised singer-songwriter has released seven studio albums to date, three DVDs, and three live albums including the Grammy®-nominated Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall. He has collaborated with artists such as Elton John, Burt Bacharach, Robert Wilson, David Byrne, Boy George, Joni Mitchell, Pet Shop Boys, Heart, Robbie Williams, Jessye Norman, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Sting, and producer Mark Ronson, among many others. He is affectionately referred to by Elton John as “the greatest songwriter on the planet.”
His recently Grammy®-nominated album, Unfollow the Rules, finds Wainwright at the peak of his powers, entering artistic maturity with passion, honesty, and a new-found fearlessness.
Oh Solo Wainwright: An Evening with Rufus is a one-night-only event, April 30. For tickets visit scottsdaleperformingarts.org/events.