STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For 21st Century Media
In life and even after death, an unlikely friendship between a fan and country music legend created a bond that couldn’t be broken. That’s the story of the musical “Always… Patsy Cline.” Written by Ted Swindley, the show features 27 of Cline’s unforgettable hits including “Crazy,” “Walkin’ After Midnight,” and “Sweet Dreams.” It’s the next production for Bristol Riverside Theatre (BRT), Jan. 27 through Feb. 22.
Jo Twiss, a frequent face in BRT productions, plays Louise, the woman who became one of Patsy’s best friends. She hears Patsy on TV in 1957 and thinks she’s amazing. In 1961, when Cline plays in Louise’s hometown of Houston, she tries to meet the singer and succeeds.
“They ended up having a magical evening that changed Louise’s life in a lot of ways,” Twiss said. “She felt like she’d found the sister she never had in Patsy.”
After Patsy suggested they keep in contact, the two women communicated by phone and through letters (the title comes from the signature in Cline’s missives).
“I think Louise was curious about the life that Patsy led, but also, they had a kinship and an understanding about life, the joys and difficulties and the heartache,” Twiss said.
Twiss thinks Louise appreciated that someone famous like Patsy would care about her enough to keep in touch.
“I think that helped her on a lot of levels and made her feel like she had someone with her, even after Patsy died,” Twiss said.
The two women communicated until the singer’s death at the age of 30 in a plane crash in 1963. After, Louise continued to call radio stations to request that Patsy’s songs be played.
“I think she thought of Patsy as an angel who was looking out for her,” Twiss said.
Twiss, a Patsy fan since she became aware of this show more than a decade ago, loves watching Jessica Wagner singing those classic songs. Wagner, of New York, is thrilled to be portraying the country music icon. From the research she’s done for the role, Wagner thinks Patsy was a strong woman.
“She knew what she wanted and would do anything to get it,” Wagner said. “She had a lot of passion and that’s apparent in her recordings and her legacy.”
Cline’s love of singing and wanting to be a professional singer helped to end her first marriage. As many did in the 1950s, her husband wanted her to stay home, but Cline wanted a music career.
“She definitely was ahead of her time,” Wagner said.
Wagner can relate to the singer’s ambition and passion for music. She appreciates Patsy’s determination and she likes Cline’s music. Born in Texas, Wagner was raised on country music. Her mother loved Patsy and would play her cassettes while they drove in the car.
“I grew up listening to her voice,” Wagner said. “I have known about the show for a while and I really wanted to do it. It’s wonderful to step into this role. I’m a big fan.”
Wagner hopes that people will come to hear Patsy’s “amazing music,” but also to enjoy the story of these two friends.
“It has so much heart. There are moments when you’re laughing your butt off and moments when you’re crying,” she said.
Twiss agreed. “The show really is a joyful romp into Patsy and Louise’s world and the journey that two people take together,” she said, “enjoying each other to the max and finding that soulful connection that never goes away.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Always… Patsy Cline”
When: Previews Jan. 27-28; opens Jan. 29; runs Tuedays through Sundays through Feb. 22.
Where: Bristol Riverside Theatre, 120 Radcliffe Street, Bristol, PA 19007
Tickets: $25-$45, with discounts for students and children
Info.: Call (215) 785-0100 or check www.brtstage.org.