The Maine State Music Theatre has begun its 59th season on a nostalgic note. Ted Swindley’s “Always … Patsy Cline” recalls not only the legendary songstress of the title but marks a performer’s return to a role she took on in an earlier production of the show by the same theater.

Patsy Cline was one of the first and best of the musical artists to cross genre boundaries in the mid-20th century. This 1988 jukebox musical brings back a lot of the magic that surrounded the country/pop singer, while also seeking to humanize her through dramatizing the true story of a fast friendship she made with a loyal fan.

Christine Mild, an established singer in her own right, has been perfecting the voice and mannerisms of the Virginia-born Cline for several years. She’s mastered many of the little touches that allowed the largely self-taught Cline to place her distinctive stamp on songs composed by the likes of Willie Nelson, Bob Willis and Bill Monroe.

The musical highlights were many on opening night. In sets made to resemble The Grand Ole Opry, a rowdy roadhouse and a fan’s home, Mild morphed into Cline on such tunes as “Back In Baby’s Arms,” “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “She’s Got You” and many more. The Patrick Fanning-directed six-piece, onstage band behind her, including pedal steel guitar and fiddle, supported everything from sunny Texas swing to heartbreaking ballads.

Christine Mild reprises the role of Patsy Cline at Maine State Music Theatre.

Adding narrative content and a whole lot of comedy to the two-character show was Charis Leos, reprising her role as fan Louise Seger from the 2010 production of the show. As the down-home single mom, Leos had the crowd roaring as she delivered folksy humor, punctuated by an infectious laugh, with clownish delight.

The story essentially turns on the suggestion that the spirited Seger crossed social divides to provide much needed and appreciated relief to an artist feeling personally and professionally put-upon at the time. The co-direction by Marc Robin and Curt Dale Clark helps to link the unlikely friends through a couple of shared numbers and kitchen table conversations during which Mild and Leos establish their characters’ connection as women.

Charis Leos plays Cline’s fan, then friend, Louise.

The sets by William James Mohney contrast grand performance spaces with a humble abode while the costumes by Brittany Leffler span the spectrum from fancy dress to funky cowgirl. Lighting by Matthew Demascolo emphasizes both late-night dazzle and a quick-arriving dawn. The sound design by Shannon Slaton honors the honest power of Cline’s music and clearly serves up every line of dialogue.

It’s a sweet story that ends with the death of Cline at age 30 in a 1963 plane crash. But warm memories of her are carried forward by the strength of her music, as presented in such affectionate productions as this.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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