BY SANDY STAGGS
Katie Rockwell is about to make history. But she is taking it all in with stride, perhaps even with a country saunter.
One of the Upstate’s most popular performers, Ms. Rockwell is paradigm of dualities: mother and wife, singer and songwriter, and as an actress, the legendary Patsy Cline for the second time.
On Friday she will launch an encore of the Mill Town Players’ inaugural show from 2014, “Always…Patsy Cline,” in an epic five-week run that will set a box-office record for the longest-running community theatre musical in the Upstate. This record is eclipsed only by The (professional) Warehouse Theatre’s “The Rocky Horror Show” six-week run last year.
Rockwell revives the country diva behind crossover hits such as “Crazy,” “Sweet Dreams,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Walkin’ After Midnight” and some 23 other songs in this story written by Ted Swindley based on the epistolary friendship she maintained with a Houston, TX fan for the last two years of her life, which was cut tragically short at age 30 in a 1963 plane crash.
The show’s title was inspired by Cline’s letters to Louise Seger (played by seasoned Upstate actor Cindy Mixon) which were signed “Love ALWAYS… Patsy Cline.”
Musician husband Larry Rockwell – Katie’s life and musical partner in the duo Katie and Larry, also joins this production as the band leader. Known for their trademark jet black hair (though she wears a wig as Patsy), Katie and Larry perform original songs and covers that span several genres of music. And Mill Town audiences will recall his remarkable Johnny Cash to her June Carter Cash in last season’s blazing opener “Ring of Fire.”
Katie regularly plays high-profile gigs as frontwoman for the rockabilly band Honey and the Hot Rods and has been an actor for over two decades appearing as Sally Bowles in “Cabaret,” Babe in “Crimes of the Heart,” Darlene in “Honky Tonk Angels,” Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls,” Joanne in “Godspell,” and many more.
Katie said she had only sung a couple of Cline covers before first playing the country superstar in 2014.
Her father is a pastor and mother is a music minister, said she was first introduced to Patsy Cline by her Aunt Phyllis, who liked to play Loretta Lynn and different music, besides traditional gospel and bluegrass. My mom is a musician and we all three would sit around and sing three-part harmony.
Though eclipsed by Loretta Lynn’s biography “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” Jessica Lange played Cline in a lauded performance in the 1985 “Sweet Dreams.”
Still, Katie said she was “surprised the first time around how many people didn’t know anything personally about Patsy Cline,” herself included. “Patsy was a very strong-willed, super fun, crazy individual.”
Katie admires Cline’s independence, especially as a working musician with experience and insight into the male-dominated music industry. “She was one of the few female artists on the road,” often arriving in a strange town with music in tow and performing with a different band every night.
In her own research for the role, Katie discovered Patsy’s father was not in the picture, she worked as a radio DJ in high school, and she married “an accountant her first time out” (Cline divorced her first husband in 1957), noting that Katie herself is a former divorcee.
Katie and Larry have been married three years and each has children. Making music and a family together has also led them to renew their faith. They have been leading music worship at a Simpsonville church and Larry just joined the staff as music minister.
And the performing family adds a new noble fir branch to its tree in December when their son, Will, will make his debut in Mill Town’s “Christmas in Dixie” music show.
“It’s the first show he’s auditioned for,” Katie said in a proud mama’s voice.
This second production of “Always…Patsy Cline,” directed by Will Ragland, is very special to Katie and dedicated to her good friend and fellow actor Diane Mitchell, who passed away in April.
Mitchell starred in “Always…Patsy Cline” at Greenville Little Theatre where Katie experienced the musical for the first time. Subsequently, Katie became close with Mitchell and costar Cindy Mixon in the many shows they performed at Greenville Little Theatre.
“There is a song I sing at the end called ‘True Love’ and every time I sing that, I think of her.”
“For you and I have a guardian angel on high with nothing to do.
But to give to you and to give to me, Love Forever True.”
“Always…Patsy Cline” is directed by Will Ragland and runs Sept. 9 –Oct. 9, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. at the Historic Pelzer Auditorium, 214 Lebby Street in Pelzer. Tickets are only $10 reserved seating, $8 seniors and military, $7 students. Call (864)947-8000 or visit www.milltownplayers.org