Jennifer Varnadoe portrays country music icon Patsy Cline in the Theatre Albany production of “Always Patsy Cline,” which opens for a seven-performance run on Friday. Varnadoe is reprising a role she first played in 2002 on the Albany theater’s stage. (Staff photo: Jim Hendricks)
ALBANY — A dozen years ago, Jennifer Varnadoe was one of several actors who were vying for the role of country music legend Patsy Cline for a March 2002 production of the play “Always Patsy Cline” at Theatre Albany.
On Friday, the Albany woman who has played Cline numerous times since then in at least three states will reprise the role when the curtain rises for the first of seven performances of “Always Patsy Cline.” She’ll be sharing the stage in the two-woman play with Dotty Davis, who heads up the theater department at Lee County High School and is remembered for her career as a radio personality in Albany.
Go here to read about the season-opening Theatre Albany show "Always Patsy Cline."
Varnadoe, an Albany resident for 26 years and an orthodontic assistant at the office of Dr. Dallas Margeson, has no formal voice training, though like many girls she took music and dance lessons. Other than that, she sang in choirs and taught herself the Patsy Cline music that she’s a fan of. “I liked the music,” she said. “It’s sort of therapeutic.” In addition to her work as Patsy Cline, she plays the flute with a small music group and also performs with another one that plays venues such as backyard barbecues and wedding receptions.
Last week, Varnadoe took a few minutes to talk with The Albany Herald about playing Cline for a third time on the Albany stage, how she became a fan of the music legend and whether after all these years of portraying Cline she still gets butterflies before the shows.
AH: have you always been a fan of Patsy Cline?
JV: I have, since I was a child, really. My mother listened to a lot of different music, but Patsy Cline was one of her favorites. I was exposed to that when I was a child. As I got older I just continued it. I have several others that I like, but she’s my main one, even though a lot of her songs are heartache or heartbreak. You can feel her presence in the songs. It’s therapeutic in a way to hear her sing about stuff people really do go through.
THE 2014-15 THEATRE ALBANY SEASON
Here are the productions scheduled this season for Theatre Albany.
THE ODD COUPLE
Sept. 26-28, Oct. 2-5
This version of Neil Simon’s play was revised by Simon in 1985 for a female cast, with the lead characters now called Florence Unger and Olive Madison.
HAUL OUT THE HOLLY
Dec. 5-7, 11-14
An original holiday revue celebrating the Christmas season.
I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE
Feb. 13-15, 19-22
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, a series of vignettes connected by the central theme of love and relationships.
THE EFFECT OF GAMMA RAYS ON MAN-IN-THE-MOON MARIGOLDS
April 17-19, 23-26
A young girl struggles to keep her focus and dreams alive.
Dates to be determined
A bankrupt Broadway director boards the Twentieth Century Ltd. and runs into his former discovery Judy Garland, pulling out all the stops to get her to do his upcoming Broadway show.
AH: This is not your first time playing Patsy Cline. I know Mark (Costello, Theatre Albany artistic director) said you played the part 12 years ago.
JV: That was part of the regular 2002 season of Theatre Albany and it ran for 11 shows. Then other theater houses in other towns started calling and wanted to do the show in their town, so Mark took us to a few towns. And then Sue Vansant and I, after Mark stopped directing the show, took it on ourselves and toured with it and went to a lot of different towns.
After that was over, I sort of turned it into a Patsy Cline revue, where I dress in character. It’s not a play, but it’s anywhere from 25 to 30 of her best known songs. We traveled with that all the way up to Alabama, Florida and a lot of places. And I do some small things on my own with just a piano player. It’s been a very active 12 years, but it’s been a little quiet for the last few years.
And in Theatre Albany there was another one, “A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline.” It’s not the same play, but it was also fun.
AH: I’ve seen some playbills from time to time and some events where I saw you listed on as entertainment doing Patsy Cline.
JV: I’ve done that for several organizations over the years. Various groups. I try to stay as available as I can. If there’s a need for it and people enjoy it, I want to make sure I do it. I love doing the character and singing the songs. People seem to enjoy it and it makes me happy when I see them smile. That’s one of the main reasons I do it. It feeds my soul.
AH: Mark told me that Dotty had a hand in helping pick you for the role back in 2002 and now you’re playing opposite her in this production.
JV: Yes, the other lady who did the character of Louise (Vansant) has moved to St. Petersburg. But I’ll tell you what, Dotty has just brought this character to life. She’s doing such a great job. She’s a great Louise and we’re going to have a lot of fun with it.
AH: It looks like y’all get along pretty well together.
JV: Oh, yeah. I was in two of her plays at Theatre Albany that she directed. I actually starred in both of those musicals with her daughter. It was “The Taffetas” and then “A Taffeta Christmas.” Dotty was not a character in the play, but she directed and did the choreography and I just enjoyed working with her. She was very, very good, very patient and high energy. I think we have a good relationship and I was really happy to learn she’d be playing Louise.
AH: How do you feel playing such an iconic role? Patsy Cline was one of the first female musical artists to headline a show that had men on the same show with her.
JV: I love it.
AH: Did you feel like you had some big cowgirl boots to fill?
JV: Of course, that’s a huge thing to do. I felt like it was a calling. I sort of knew I’d never let people down, but there’s never going to be another Patsy Cline. I thought with my passion for the music and I’m a fan of Patsy Cline, I’m comfortable portraying her character. It’s almost empowerment since she paved the way for all of our female country artists today. Had it not been for Patsy and other greats of her time, they probably wouldn’t be where they are now.
AH: Do you gravitate toward musicals or have you taken on other types of roles over the years?
JV: “Always Patsy Cline” in 2002 was my very first musical ever. I’d never sung anywhere, other than church choir and that kind of stuff. I started in 1995 with Theatre Albany and mainly did British comedy. I did several of those. I always sang the Patsy Cline songs in the car and my son was always with me, so he knows every Patsy Cline song there is. We were at another show (in 2001) and they announced that “Always Patsy Cline” would be part of the season and he nudged me and said, “Mama, you need to audition for that.” I’d sung in my car but not out around anybody. I didn’t think anybody’d want to hear it. It helped my confidence out when I got the part, but it wasn’t easy. I had to audition three times.
AH: The first time you played her, did you have some serious butterflies?
JV: Anytime I get on stage I have butterflies. I think it propels anybody on stage to give it 110 percent. When we were practicing, I got positive feedback from people who would pop in. Then we had the rehearsals and dress rehearsals and it was so well received, and I felt a little better. But I still have butterflies every time I walk out on the stage, whether this or singing for small group of singing as myself, out of character, There’s always that nerve factor. But it also makes you feel alive.
AH: I noticed the other night you were resting your voice. How taxing is a show like this on you?
JV: Normally, I’m fine, but I haven’t had my voice 100 percent since February. Usually when I’m 100 percent, I’m fine. I can do the shows back to back to back and I’m fine and my voice is strong and I feel rested when I’m not singing. This is already 1,000 times better than when you saw me Monday. It’s exhausting on your entire body and your mind and everything, but once everything gets rested, it’s let’s get up and do it again. Every audience is different, so every show is different. I like that. No matter what, we give it our all.
AH: Anything you’d like to add?
JV: I just want everybody to come see the show and enjoy it. If I make at least one person happy and one person smile, then I’ve done my job well. You never know what people are experiencing before they come into the theater. It might be a terrible day, but it seems people always leave really happy. And I’m touched when people come up to me afterwards and tell me what they were experiencing when they heard that song. Some older people tell me, “That’s what my husband and I danced to.” So it’s very rewarding.