How to Write a Hit Musical On the Anniversary of Always...Patsy Cline at Stages
There are as many ways to write a hit musical as there are playwrights. Cole Porter sometimes gathered collaborators for a world cruise - he wrote Begin the Beguine on the Cunard liner Franconia in 1935 - between Indonesia and Fiji.
Chorus Line began when dancers gathered at New York's Nickolaus Exercise Center in January, 1974, and tape-recorded show business experiences, then bit-by-bit over 15 months the material was shaped into the hit musical that opened at the Public Theatre and later moved to Broadway to become its longest-running hit.
And Ted Swindley, Founding Artistic Director of Stages Repertory Theatre, wrote Always...Patsy Cline in 1988 because one of Stages two theaters was empty and needed a show. Necessity is the mother of invention.
Swindley says: "It was the summer of 1988 and I was the artistic director at Stages. We have two theatre spaces and one of them was dark and the economy in Houston was in the tank. So we needed to put a show in the empty theatre right away. We had been talking about a show about Patsy Cline for some time and this just seemed to be the perfect time to do it.
"We believed that Patsy had large commercial appeal and her iconic stature as a country/pop recording artist would make a good topic for a musical. But I did not want to do simply a musical revue or some sort of bio epic. So I asked the simple question, 'DId Patsy ever play Houston?' With a little research, I found out that she had played the Esquire Ballroom and then I found an interview with Louise Seger in a biography of Patsy that recounted their meeting in Houston and how they became pen pals until Patsy's death in 1963. It was a sweet anecdote set in Houston so I decided to make the story into a small two person musical that became an instant hit with local audiences.
"Now, all these years later, Always...Patsy Cline is still playing all over the U.S. and Canada and we have had tours in Scotland, England, Ireland and Australia. I thought the show would be one with a little local appeal for Houston audiences but soon found out that Patsy is a huge star and the story of her friendship with Louise is universal."
Swindley's impulse to fill a dark theater changed his life. He told the weekly paper The Nashville Scene: "This country music thing was a total fluke. People think I'm an authority on Patsy Cline. I didn't even know who she was . . . I had to educate myself."
Five years later, when Always ... Patsy Cline received its first staging at the large and historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Swindley himself moved there, where he lives now, after a stint in NYC. And the country music genre continued its siren appeal, with Swindley penning the country musicals Honky Tonk Angels and Bubba's Revenge, along with a play Becoming Kinky, about Kinky Friedman, the legendary Texas musician and humorist turned politician. Swindley has himself become a Nashville legend.
So, if you feel the need to give in to an impulse, be careful - it may transform your entire life.