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'A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline' at OCT

Singing music by pioneering country artist Patsy Cline always reminds Kymberli Colbourne of her childhood in Texas and of her grandparents.

"I heard country music all of my life," Colbourne says. "My grandparents were great fans of Patsy Cline, and my grandmother would always ask me to sing Patsy Cline's songs to her. Her favorites were 'Crazy' and 'Walkin' After Midnight.' I even made a CD singing Patsy Cline's songs and gave to my grandmother for Christmas one year."

Colbourne will get her chance to show all of us how she sings Patsy Cline when the Oregon Cabaret Theatre opens "A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline."

Preview performances are set for Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 6 and 7, at OCT, First and Hargadine streets, Ashland. The show opens Friday, Feb. 8, with performances at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays through March 24. Matinees are set for 1 p.m. Sundays.

"A Closer Walk," written by Dean Regan and directed by OCT Artistic Director Jim Giancarlo, tells of Cline's brief but memorable career and features all of her hits, including "Crazy," "I Fall to Pieces," "Walkin' After Midnight," "Sweet Dreams" and "Your Cheatin' Heart."

"For a lot of people in the 1950s, Patsy Cline was the female voice of America," Colbourne says. "She had this incredible, feminine energy onstage and a masculine energy when she was offstage."

Cline began singing at age 15 in honky-tonks around her northern Virginia home to help support her mother and younger siblings. By age 20, she was making records and appearing on local television and radio in the rural areas around Washington, D.C., with occasional national appearances on "Grand Ole Opry" from Nashville, Tenn.

It wasn't until 1957, when Cline auditioned for "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts," that she was discovered. She sang "Walkin' After Midnight," which she already had recorded as a country song. Suddenly, Cline had crossed over from country into pop music, and her career took off.

Cline demanded fair treatment from concert promoters ("No dough, no show"), and she made sure her band got its money, as well. Always willing to help, she aided newcomers Loretta Lynn, Dottie West, Brenda Lee, Carl Perkins, Ferlin Husky and Roger Miller with their careers.

Cline died in 1963, at age 30, when the small, private plane she had boarded for home crashed during a storm.

Giancarlo says he thought of staging a new production of "A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline" (Cabaret did the show in 1996) when Colbourne appeared last year in OCT's production of "Song and Dance."

"During that show, we had a bit with Kymberli and Chris Patterson reminiscing about the music they grew up with. Kymberli talked about her musical roots in country and especially about Patsy Cline. I knew her vocal range would be great for the role."

To perfect Cline's distinctive style, Colbourne says she studied recordings to nail down Cline's phrasing and her signature warbles and growls.

"I've marked up copies of the lyrics with all kinds of symbols, memorizing it like a script, to be able to internalize her sound."

She's joined in the show by Christopher Bange, who plays disc jockey Little Big Man — along with some comics during Cline's appearances at the Opry, in Las Vegas and Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Music director and keyboard player John Taylor, drummer Tom Freeman and guitarist and pedal-steel player Fred Epping — along with stage manager Kathleen Mahoney — provide backup vocals.

Preview tickets cost $19. Other tickets prices range from $37 for Fridays and Saturdays, $32 for Sunday matinees, $28 for Sundays and $33 for weeknights. Bistro seating is available for $20.

Dinner is available at 6:30 p.m. for evening performances, and brunch is at 11:30 a.m. for matinees. Reservations are required. Appetizers, beverages and desserts are available during intermissions.

Tickets may be purchased by calling 541-488-2902 or at www.oregoncabaret.com.

Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at rbkent@mind.net.

Kymberli Colbourne plays country and pop singer Patsy Cline in Oregon Cabaret Theatre's production of 'A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline.' - Photo courtesy of Judith Pavlik