PUBLISHED: 11:14 AM on Wednesday, March 2, 2005
Patsy Cline remembered in Juneau performance

Photo by Brian Wallace
  Patricia Hull as Patsy Cline in "Always... Patsy Cline."
The story of Patsy Cline, the down-to-earth Virginia girl who became one of America's best loved country singers, opens this Friday for a two week run in Juneau. Singer Patricia Hull portrays Cline in the Juneau production, sponsored by the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council.

"Always ... Patsy Cline" is a musical stage play featuring 20 of her classic songs . The title evokes the signature of a handwritten letter, sent by the legendary county singer to her friend Louise Seger. The two women struck up a friendship after meeting at a show in Houston in 1961. Louise tells the story of their friendship against the backdrop of Cline's career. The action is set in a Houston honky tonk, at the Grand Ol' Opry, and in Louise's kitchen.

Hull said when she first considered doing the show, the idea hinged on local musicians John and Mark Knight signing on as the core of the Bodacious Bobcats, Patsy's five-piece backup band in the play.

"Mark and John and I went to high school together here in Juneau," Hull said. "I knew they had to be in it. They were playing this music when they were toddlers - their parents were country western musicians, and they know so much about this music, every nuance and color."

Mark said Patsy Cline was popular in the Knight household. "There was always a lot of Patsy in the background when we were growing up, she was one of my mom's favorite artists."

Patsy Cline rose to fame in 1957 after appearances on the popular television talent search program, "The Arthur Godfrey Show." Juneau videographer Pat Race of Lucid Reverie has recreated her black-and-white TV performance of "Walkin' After Midnight" for the upcoming stage show.

In her six-year career Cline had a string of hits including "Crazy," which topped both the country and pop music charts. "I Fall to Pieces" was the number one song of 1962, and "Sweet Dreams" was a chart-topper in the months after her death in March 1963. She was only 30 years old.

"Always ... Patsy Cline" has enjoyed considerable success across the United States over the past decade, including a successful off-Broadway run. It was a surprise hit in Denver, where it was held over for 800 performances. It ran for two years and in 1997 the show became the longest-running production in the city's history.

Charlotte Carroll is directing the show. Carroll, a former president and director with the Juneau-Douglas Little Theatre, has worked with Hull before. She liked the script and story that surrounds the songs and signed on.

"It's a funny show," she said. "It's not just a musical. It's funny and poignant - it's a crowd pleaser."

"I was Patricia's first director," she added. "I directed her in 'My Fair Lady' - she played Eliza Doolittle in high school here in 1978 ."

Hull has appeared on stage many times since her days at JDHS. She's sung operas with Juneau Lyric Opera and musicals at Perseverance, including "Working," in 2003. She's performed classical music in choirs and Beatles' song at the Alaska Folk Festival. Her voice is trained, but not limited to any one style.

"I think of myself as an actress who sings," she said. "So if I'm in an opera, I sing with and opera voice. Every song has a character who is singing that song. Every song demands its own voice."

Hull could imitate Cline, but Mark Knight has advised her not to, to go beyond that.

"What's the point of just copying someone - you might as well play the CD," he said. "You get the soul of it, the essence of what's Patsy Cline, but you bring yourself to it."

The show features Grace Elliott as Louise. Elliott , a Juneau storyteller, is perhaps best known as "Sister Grace the Blues Goddess," the hostess of the popular Thursday morning blues show on KTOO. Elliot said she was looking for an upbeat winter production, and jumped at the chance to work with Carroll and Hull.

"I was really ready for a project to get me from the winter solstice to the spring equinox," she said. "I worked with Charlotte in 'Our Town' a few years ago. I knew I'd have fun and I knew she'd take good care of me."

The show will be staged at Marlintini's Lounge, a Mendenhall Valley nightclub. Hull said people have raised their eyebrows at the idea of a theatrical performance in Marlintini's, but it's proving to be an ideal venue.

"We really needed a honky tonk," she said. "A place that could seat lots of folks, with theater lighting and a good sound system. That have all that plus a great attitude. They're really enthusiastic about this and they've rolled out the red carpet for us."

Hull said the room will be nonsmoking for the hour-and-a-half performance, but the bar will be open.

"Kids can go with their parents, " she said. "There's nothing in the show that's inappropriate."

In addition to John and Mark Knight on pedal steel and bass guitars, the Bodacious Bobcats includes drummer Andy Engstrom, lead guitarist Leo Bayeur rhythm guitarist Riley Woodford.

"Always ... Patsy Cline," starts at 7 p.m. and runs Friday and Saturday, March 4 and 5, and the following weekend, March 10, 11 and 12.