Preview: Patsy Cline's short life and long-lasting songs come to Stage West show

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Patsy Cline is both a rock and country superstar, having been inducted into each genre’s halls of fame.

Female singers from Reba McEntire and Loretta Lynn to Linda Ronstadt and Cyndi Lauper have named her as one of the most influential artists in their careers. Her songs continue to be covered by pop, jazz and country artists, the irony being she had only an eight-year professional career, cut short in 1963, at age 31, by a plane crash that also claimed the lives of Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas.

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Sarah Horsman, who portrays the legendary Cline in Stage West’s summer show, A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline, calls her “a timeless trailblazer.

“Patsy paved the way for such influential female superstars as Dolly Parton, Beyonce and Taylor Swift. Patsy came into country music when it was a man’s world, and she had to fight hard to be recognized, valued, and accepted, things superstars take for granted today. Patsy was the first female country singer to negotiate her contracts.”

Horsman stresses that Cline “was not an overnight success. She started auditioning and being rejected from the time she was 14 years old. Record producers saw her talent and loved her voice, but didn’t know how to make room for her in the industry. She kept on trucking, because she knew it was what she wanted to do, and was meant to do. When people started buying her records, she was able to perform at the Grand Ole Opry, in Vegas, and at Carnegie Hall. The true tragedy is that she never got to realize her full potential.”

Cline’s first major hit single was in 1957 with Walkin’ After Midnight, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard country music chart and No. 12 on its pop chart. Although the song was her only hit until 1961, it sold more than one million copies. She followed that up in 1960 with I Fall to Pieces, the No. 2 song of that year.

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“Patsy connected with listeners because she sang from her heart, and showed her vulnerability,” said Horseman. In her songs, Patsy sounded like how so many people felt about their own relationships. She was respected by other artists because she combined everything from gospel and R&B to pop and country. She was creating her own genre. If she had lived, she probably would have become one of music’s greatest crooners. That’s where she was heading.”

Horsman sees Cline’s personal life as “a rollercoaster of raw emotions.”

She was the oldest of three kids and when their father left, she quit school to work to help support the family. In 1961, when her career was really taking off, she was injured in a car accident with her brother when another driver hit them head-on.

Cline was married twice. She described her first marriage to Gerald Cline in 1953 as loveless, and her second to Charlie Dick in 1957 as passionate, tumultuous, and fueled by alcohol and fights. That marriage yielded two children. She has been portrayed in films by both Jessica Lange and Beverly D’Angelo.

Although there are several stage plays based on Patsy Cline’s life, Horsman says Dean Regan’s A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline, created in Vancouver in 1991, is the one most suited to dinner theatre.

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“The show gives audiences the essential, historical facts, and more than 20 of her songs, but it also has some great humour. A radio personality called Little Big Man is hosting a Patsy Cline tribute night on his radio show, but (the actor) who plays him gets to step away and become different comedians who opened for Patsy at the Grand Ole Opry, Vegas and Carnegie Hall. It makes for such an entertaining evening.”

Jeremy Lapone plays the comedians, April Cook and Luke Opdahl play Patsy’s backup singers, and the show is directed by Wade Lynch, with musical direction by Lisa MacDougall. A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline runs July 2 to Sept. 1.

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