A lyric by singer Barbara Mandrell fits the late country music legend Patsy Cline very well, I think. The line goes: "I was country when country wasn't cool."
Cline -- nee Virginia Patterson Hensley -- was killed in a 1963 plane crash in rural Tennessee, dead at age 30 along with her guitarist and manager, Randy Hughes, and fellow performers Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas. She was on the cusp of crossover stardom yet was still a Grand Ole Opry regular. Television contracts loomed and Europe beckoned. Her death, four years after that of rock 'n' roll pioneer Buddy Holly, gave America's music another kick in the gut; it was "The Day the Music Died," Part II.
But Cline will never die. Her records are platinum, there have been movies made of her life, although there is a family disclaimer: "Great movies," they said, "if you like fiction." Biographies abound, and stage remembrances are popular internationally.
For more than a decade now, a favorite Cline musical memoir has been Ted Swindley's "Always Patsy Cline," more than two dozen songs by a who's who of country-western writers such as Roy Acuff, Bob Montgomery, Hank Williams Sr., Willie Nelson and bluegrass patron saint Bill Monroe, among many others. The songs are paraded around a story of sorts narrated by a Cline superfan, Louise Seger, a Texas good-old-gal who became a pen pal to the needy Cline, as well as an unlikely and loyal confidante.
The Kavinoky Theatre has reprised its huge "Always" hit of a few seasons back with Kelly Ann Krupski back as Pasty and Lisa Ludwig returning as hee-hawing Louise. Tom Makar again directs. There are few changes. As Seger might say, "If it ain't broke "
The classically trained Krupski is again terrific -- maybe too polished and classy for the supposed rough-around-the-edges Cline -- but she's an authentic interpreter of "Walkin' After Midnight," the lonely "You Belong to Me," the iconic "Crazy," Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky," the definitive lost love lament "She's Got You" and 22 other lovin', dreamin' and cheatin' songs plus a few nods to the Man Upstairs. This tale is not about the uncertain and coarse Cline, a personal life gone awry or juicy tidbits about rumored tiffs with established country divas. When Krupski sings, nothing else matters.
And then there's Ludwig's Louise, often obnoxious, with a twang on steroids, shamelessly mugging in the background -- and maybe the foreground. She's a capable song partner often and, in her defense, if Cline told her secrets, Louise never blabbed. Louise is too much, but she's periodically fun and always honest.
There's a very able onstage band, surprisingly laid back; interaction with Cline suffers some. Jim Ehinger is musical director.
It's true: There are no bad country songs. Certainly none in "Always Patsy Cline."
"Always ... Patsy Cline"
3 stars (out of 4)
WHEN: Through July 3
WHERE: Kavinoky Theatre, 320 Porter Ave.
INFO: www.kavinokytheatre.com, 829-7668