'Always ... Patsy Cline'

When Livia Genise was playing the best friend in Ted Swindley's "Always"…Patsy Cline" at the Mason Street Theatre in San Francisco, she used to take the character's thick Texas accent home with her.

"My daughter would say, 'Mom, shut up,' " she remembers with a laugh.

That was in 1995. Joanie Morris, a Patsy Cline impersonator and country singer, played the star.

Now Genise will be Patsy, and Presila Quinby will play the part of the friend, Louise Seger, when Camelot Theatre Company opens the third musical of its 2010 season, "Always"…Patsy Cline," Oct. 9. The show is based on the true story of the singer's friendship with a fan from Houston, Louise Seger.

Cline, whose real name was Virginia Patterson Hensley, was a country singer who "crossed over" to pop success, as well as Nashville stardom. Her records continued to sell for decades after her death, as songs such as "Crazy," "I Fall to Pieces," "Sweet Dreams" and "Walking After Midnight" elevated her to icon status.

Seger befriended Cline in a Texas honky-tonk in l961, two years before the country singer's death at age 30 in a plane crash, and corresponded with her the rest of her life.

The play is based on an expanded section of Swindley's biography of the singer, "Honky Tonk Angel." It was named one of the top 10 shows across the country in 1998 by American Theatre Magazine and won fans for its country humor, emotion and 27 songs.

Swindley has directed and/or produced more than 200 plays over a 20-year stretch, including the production that included Genise in 1993. Nominated for an award for his directorial work at the Pasadena Playhouse by the Los Angeles Critics Circle, Swindley was named to Esquire magazine's register of Americans for Outstanding Achievement in Arts and Letters and was featured in Southern Living Magazine. In 2007 he was a keynote speaker at the Southwestern Theatre Conference.

Genise is directing this production, with musical direction by Karl Iverson, who also plays keyboards. They'll be joined on stage by a band consisting of Matt Gwinup (electric guitar), Esther Aviana Platt (fiddle), Peter Spring (bass) and Steve Sutfin (drums).

"I love her voice," Genise says. "I'm trying to sound exactly like her, the riffs, the growls, everything. The growls are harder than the riffs."

Cline had a strong contralto voice and was known for her rich tonal quality. Genise has sung this songbook before, in an early musical "spotlight" program at Camelot.

Although she's made a career of the theater, Genise's college degree is actually in voice.

"I was getting cast in musicals," she says, "and the University of Illinois didn't consider that play experience."

The role as Cline requires her to sing 27 songs a night four nights a week. She was having problems with her voice "grabbing" in rehearsals and took her problem to Ellie Murray, who teaches voice at Southern Oregon University.

"I was having some tension," she says. "You never want to sing from tension. I had to relax my larynx."

Genise says the play, which is controlled in part by Cline's estate, has had some changes since she was first in it. Songs have been added. Lines such as Patsy saying, "Sometimes I'd go to work with a black eye" have been dropped.

She says Quinby becomes the character she's playing.

"She's wonderful," she says. "We have a lot of fun."

Quinby was recently Aunt Alicia in the theater's production of "Gigi." With a long list of Broadway and regional theater credits, she's also a Camelot regular, appearing as Lenya von Bruno in "Bullshot Crummond," Mrs. Muzzy in "Sockdology," Kate in "Dancing at Lughnasa" and other roles.

Karl Iverson has been performing with Camelot since 2003, sometimes on stage but usually as a musician. The production team for "Always...Patsy Cline" includes Camelot's resident designers: set designer Don Zastoupil, lighting designer Bart Grady and sound designer Brian O'Connor. Costumes are by guest designer Michael Maisonneuve, Peter Wickcliffe is dramaturg, and stage manager Taja Watkins heads the technical team.

The theater recommends reservations. All Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m. and all Sunday performances are at 2 p.m. There is a special added performance at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 13. There is no pay-what-you-can performance for this show.

Tickets can be ordered by phone, at the box office (open 1 to 5 p.m. except Sundays and one hour before shows) or at www.camelottheatre.org.

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