Monday, September 2, 2002

Zenia Zambrano is Patsy Cline and Gordon Ing, left, and Eric Richards are Jordanaires in the Manoa Valley Theatre production of "A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline," which opens on Wednesday.

Homework helps actress
portray a lyrical legend

By John Berger

Who was Patsy Cline?

When Zenia Zambrano decided to audition for the title role in Manoa Valley Theatre's season-opening production of "A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline," she made it her business to find out.

"I had heard the name before, but didn't really grow up with her music," Zambrano said recently.

"When I was going to audition, I bought all her CDs, listened to all her music and read her biography, really got to know her -- and I was, like, 'Oh my God, I have to play her!' By now I think she's probably become my favorite singer. There was no one like her. She was basically the first female country headliner. A female had never headlined a show before."

Kitty Wells struck a musical blow for equality with "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" in 1952 -- a woman's response to Hank Thompson's hit "The Wild Side of Life" -- but Cline's hits positioned her as a spokeswoman for similar sentiments in the early 1960s. Loretta Lynn would follow her and take the message further.

Zenia Zambrano is Patsy Cline surrounded by, clockwise from left, Scott Moura, Eric Richards, Lance Bateman, Sean Moulson and Gordon Ing, who play the Jordanaires in the Manoa Valley Theatre production of "A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline."

Zambrano immersed herself in Cline's life and musical legacy, and the research paid off. Zambrano won the part with the subsequent approval of the Patsy Cline Estate. She opens as Patsy Cline in Manoa Valley Theatre's production of "A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline" on Wednesday.

The show is set on the day that Cline died, as a live radio show, Zambrano said. "They're doing a tribute to Patsy, and the radio announcer who is going through her life will say something, and then I sing a song from that time."

Jim Hutchison is directing the production. Lance Bateman, Gordon Ing, Scott Moura, Sean Moulson and Eric Richards are Zambrano's male vocal ensemble. Musical director Mark Minasian (trumpet) is leading Lou Benanto (bass), Fred Oshiro (guitar), Keoki Van Orden (drums) and Emmett Yoshioka (piano) as her band.

So is there a lot of pressure in playing such a well-known figure?

"It's a little bit harder when you're doing a nonfictional character 'cause you (can't) do whatever you feel, and because a lot of people know Patsy Cline. I didn't know so many people knew about her, and so there's pressure. You have to sound like her and act like her. Of course, I'm not gonna sound exactly like her, but it's fun."

Zambrano goes through many changes as she portrays Cline at various stages of her career.

Cline, born Virginia Patterson Hensley on Sept. 9, 1932, grew up poor and saw singing as a way out of her hardscrabble life. One of her favorite pastimes was imitating Shirley Temple and singing along to radio broadcasts.

Ironically, given her eventual stardom, she was turned down the first time she auditioned for the Grand Ole Opry, and spent the next five years singing in low-end bars.

Married at 21 to Gerald Cline, she got divorced four years later but kept his name; it's said she was dubbed "Patsy" by a musician who thought her middle name was Patricia.

Cline was discovered by promoter Connie B. Gay in 1954 and featured on his syndicated radio show. That exposure and a demo recording led to a deal with a small-time record label that eventually worked out a leasing deal with Decca.

Her first hit, "Walkin' After Midnight," peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Country Singles chart and at No. 12 on the Hot 100. The flip side, "A Poor Man's Roses (On a Rich Man's Gold)," was also a hit with country music fans, but Cline didn't chart again for almost four years.

"She recorded a lot, but she could only sing songs they approved, so it was really hard for her to find another hit," Zambrano said.

And so, if Cline had died in 1960, she'd be remembered as the one-hit artist who'd recorded "Walkin' After Midnight" in 1957. But in 1961 she recorded "I Fall to Pieces," which topped the Billboard Country Singles chart for two weeks. Next came "Crazy," written by Willie Nelson, which peaked at No. 2 on the country chart (and No. 9 on the Hot 100), and "She's Got You," which topped the country singles charts for five weeks in 1962. Her hits include "Just a Closer Walk with Thee," but it's not in the show.

Patsy Cline died in a plane crash with country artists Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas on March 3, 1963.

"I think she was just starting to rise to the top again," Zambrano said.

She was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1973.

Almost 40 years after her death, Cline's hits and some of her lesser-known recordings are regarded as classics by country and pop fans alike. Zambrano hopes that the MVT production will introduce Cline's musical legacy to other people too young to remember it.

"Her music is so good and it's so timeless that I hope more people will become fans of hers and know about her life and how hard she worked to get to where she was. She worked so hard, and she set standards for country music that are still being upheld now."

"Women weren't headliners in those days, but Patsy fought her way through it and became a headliner at the Grand Ole Opry.

"She was able to cross over into pop music, and she was very musical, too. When you listen to her from a musician's standpoint, she has great phrasing, great dynamics. She can really interpret the music, and she's not just singing some song -- she's putting her whole heart and knowledge of music into it."

And so what's her favorite Patsy Cline song?

"I have a lot. They change weekly, (but) I think right now I like 'Gotta Lotta Rhythm' -- it's just so fun -- but from her more popular songs, my favorite is 'Faded Love.' You can really hear her emotion in it. I think it could have been a bigger hit than it was."

'A Closer Walk
with Patsy Cline'

Presented by Manoa Valley Theatre:

On stage: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 4 p.m. Sunday through Sept. 22
Place: Manoa Valley Theatre, 2833 East Manoa Road
Tickets: $30, $25 for seniors and military, $10 for age 25 and under
Call: 988-6131

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.

E-mail to Features Editor


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Calendars]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --