What do you imagine would happen if you met one of your idols? Could you imagine being a trusted confidant of your favorite celebrity?
The 2020 inaugural show at Peterborough Players tells the true-to-life story of such an encounter with one of country music’s biggest stars in history. “Always...Patsy Cline” opens this evening, Jan. 16, with performances running through Jan. 26 at the theater.
The story is based on a chance meeting in 1961 between Cline, one of country’s music’s biggest stars at the time, and a fan named Louise Seger. Over bacon and eggs, the two became close friends, supporting each other through letters until Cline’s untimely death at age 30 in 1963.
The show is highlighted by 27 of Cline’s hit songs (including the Willie Nelson-penned “Crazy,” “Walking After Midnight” and “I Fall to Pieces”. Not only was she country music’s biggest star, she was also one of the first successful artists to cross over to pop music.
This play has not been seen on the Players’ stage since 2003. A separate look at Patsy Cline’s life in a different show, “A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline,” was produced at the Players in 2014.
Bridget Beirne, who plays the legendary singer in “Always...Patsy Cline,” also played the title role in that show.
“It speaks to how interested in and engaged people are by Patsy Cline that there’s these two pieces about her,” said Beirne. “Both are great for different reasons. In ‘A Closer Walk,’ it’s a little more of a retrospective of her life through the eyes of a DJ. ‘Always’ zooms in on this specific relationship between these two people.”
While the song list in both shows includes some of the big hits people want to hear, they are different from each other. Beirne also played Cline one other time at a Boston theater in “A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline.”
“This is my third time playing her,” she said. “Each time I learn something new. Each one of these little stories and moments has added a layer to who she is for me.”
The production is directed by Tom Frey and features a live band on stage. “The more I read about it, the more I realized [their friendship] is just another example of what a normal, everyday person [Cline] was.”
Lisa Bostnar, a close friend of Beirne’s, will play Seger. “I’m looking forward to telling the story of a friendship with a friend,” she said. “We’re having so much fun together. So much of this play is a celebration.”
Frey said their friendship off-stage helps tremendously with the on-stage relationship between the two characters.
“They walked in the door with great timing,” he said. “They know each other’s humor — there’s a great personal connection you don’t have to manufacture.”
Without mimicry, Beirne’s aim is to bring as much of the real-life Patsy Cline to the stage as she possibly can.
“There was at all times an extreme confidence about her,” said Beirne. “She was so invested in the moment of performing.”
Beyond that, Beirne tries to incorporate some of the little things — the way she snapped her fingers, for example, and the way she swayed her hips when she performed as well as how she talked to her band on-stage.
“She had this great sense of humor,” she said. “She loved red nails and fancy clothes and she fiercely loved her children — it’s part of what made her get on that plane. She wanted to go home to her kids.”
Vocally, Beirne works to capture traits such as the key in which she sings, or the way she shapes certain vowels and breaks up a musical phrase.
“We want the audience to get that experience,” she said. “Nobody is the great Patsy Cline, but we want the audience to feel they’re watching her.
Something more unknown about Cline, Beirne went on, is her compassion — almost to a fault.
“She took care of a lot of other country music singers” she said. “She would help financially, emotionally when they needed it. She was very maternal in the way she cared for a lot of people.
She also took care of her fan and friend Louise, who Beirne said “goes through a big change.”
“You get to see what happens to her through Patsy’s influence in her life,” she said. “[Patsy] is the person that’s her puzzle piece. They bring out the best in each other. Each picks up where the other leaves off, providing what they need for each other that’s missing.”
Seger takes care of Patsy for a change. Frey said he also learned a lot about Cline through his own research about her.
“There are a lot of fascinating details and there’s no way to shoehorn them all into the show we’re doing,” he said.
For instance, Cline was involved in a car accident in the early ‘60s that critically injured her, and she got creative to cover a scar on her forehead.
“In all these album covers and photos from that era she wore this wig and headband,” said Frey.
This show requires Beirne to consider Cline as a person and not just as a star.
“It set me back to the resources I used before — films in which someone else plays rock or pop stars,” she said. “Watching someone else play the part helps me distill those famous moments. I’m going back and revisiting the human side of who she was.”
“Always…Patsy Cline,” opens this evening, Jan. 16 and runs through 26 at Peterborough Players, 55 Hadley Road. Tickets are $43 and may be purchased online at peterboroughplayers.org or by calling the box office at 924-7585. Pay-What-You-Can night is Friday, Jan. 17.