Summer’s coming, and with it, Pippin co-producers Anna Roberts Ostroff and Alan Ostroff return to Annapolis to open Infinity Theatre’s third season of bringing New York talent to the region. This year, the romantic Bock/Harnock musical She Loves Me opens July 12th and the season-opener begins this weekend – Always … Patsy Cline starring Jenny Lee Stern.
Written by Ted Swindley, the musical tribute to country music great Patsy Cline (“Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Sweet Dreams” and “Walking After Midnight”) is based on the correspondence between Patsy and a Houston housewife, Louise Seger. Louise became more than a fan for Patsy and their relationship continued until Cline’s tragic death at 30.
At Infinity, Robin Baxter plays Louise opposite New York-based actress-singer Jenny Lee Stern as Patsy Cline. Stern has appeared in various companies of Jersey Boys, including the national tour. Last summer, she joined the infamous satirical send-up Forbidden Broadway for its most recent edition, Forbidden Broadway: Alive and Kicking.
Patsy Cline has become something of a landmark for Stern, since this will be her third time playing the Virginia native, born Virginia Patterson Hensley in 1932.
Stern talked with DC Theatre Scene’s Jeffrey Walker about Patsy Cline, the night her idol Carol Burnett came to Forbidden Broadway, and her life as a wife and mother.
This will be your third time putting on the ruby lipstick and soulful twang of Patsy Cline. Is this a special role for you?
Yes, it’s the most special, indeed. Being cast in this role the first time was a huge turning point for me as an actress. It was my first job back after giving birth to my first daughter. I connected so deeply to Patsy and it just came out through my voice. I understood everything she sang about in a way I’m not sure I could have in my younger years. Also facing the challenge of singing 26 songs a night (sometimes twice a day!) was a bit daunting. To accomplish that is very rewarding and gave me a new level of vocal confidence.
Do you try to bring something different each time you do it?
I don’t even have to try! It just happens, because I’m different every time. Where I am in the country, what’s going on in my personal life, etc. The first time I did the show, like I said, I had just had a baby. The second time, I was pregnant with my second. The third time (as a one-night only fully staged concert) I had two babies and it was my first time away from home. And now, I have this little family. They’ve come along for the ride and its amazing. Patsy went through all these same scenarios so it only deepens my connection to her.
Were you always a fan?
Honestly, not really. I mean, I wasn’t “not” a fan. She just wasn’t someone I was really exposed to. I loved Madonna and Whitney and was completely obsessed with Oldies (50s and 60s music) as a kid. But country music – past or current – was not something I discovered until later in life. Obviously I’m a huge fan now!
How did you study her to create this character and bring these songs to life for the show?
I read a few books, went crazy on YouTube, I listened to about everything she ever recorded. And I had a wonderful live recording that our director Chan Harris gave me the first time around. Patsy did a lot of banter and chatting with the audience at this particular concert and that really helped me find her true voice, who she really was beyond the recording studio.
How do you balance singing in your own voice, versus doing an impersonation?
I think the first time around I was very much singing in my own voice heavily influenced by Patsy Cline. Now, after singing and listening to the original recordings over and over again, I feel as though it really is her voice coming out of me, not my own. Although, I hesitate to say “impression” because it’s more than that for me. I like the word “tribute.”
Doing Forbidden Broadway, you brought other legends to life – Patti, Bernadette, Judy, Sutton Foster. Is mimicry something you did growing up?
(Laughing) I got this question a lot while I was doing Forbidden Broadway. I would say no. Because I wouldn’t consider myself an impersonator. My dad would say yes, however. He has reminded me how I’d do everyone in the family and on his track team (he’s a retired collegiate and Olympic coach) from the time I was 6 years old. So, yes, I suppose I have a natural knack for mimicry.
Tell us a story from Forbidden Broadway story.
Well, there was the time I came dangerously close to going out onstage as Frankie Valli in the Jersey Boys part without any pants.
But the most memorable performance for me was when Carol Burnett was in the house. I didn’t think I’d really be affected by it. You know, just do my show, no big whoop. Then I heard her. Then I SAW her. Ahhhh! A true idol. I came on for the Annie number and was thinking, “Oh my GOD! I’m doing Annie for Miss Hannigan!” Then I came out as Bernadette and was like, “Oh my GOD! They know each other! What does she think?? Are they friends? Enemies?? I’m doing Lily St. Regis for Miss Hannigan!!” Then I came out as Judy knowing they knew each other too. But, Annie was basically the end all-be all for me growing up and this was Miss Hannigan. And I was freaking out a little bit. Then she addressed me by name when I came out after the show and gave me a big hug and told me how amazing I was. And I died. Then she agreed to a picture with my family.
And I was brought back to life and died again.
What a great story, to meet one of your idols like that.
I noticed on your resume, you mention cheerleading as a skill. Confess: were you a cheerleader who ended up doing theatre or a theatre girl who dared to do cheerleading too?
Oh, very much a theatre girl who dared to do cheerleading. There’s was actually a big ta-do in high school between the cheerleading coach, the drama teacher, and the choir director – fighting over that I shouldn’t cheer because it would damage my voice blah blah blah. You know what’ll damage your voice? Pretending to be Bernadette Peters and Judy Garland every night! Haha!
Anyway, I did end up cheering and I had a blast, but I still did all the musicals.
You are married to actor Jeremy Kushnier (Rent and Footloose on Broadway). Two actors married to each other – plus or minus?
A plus. It can be challenging being apart, not always having a steady income, navigating two Type A personalities. If I were married to a hot shot lawyer I might get to vacation more and I might drive a brand new white Lexus SUV and I’d always dominate at Karaoke. But I am sure I’d have to go to a lot of boring parties. And he wouldn’t know what a call back was. And he wouldn’t understand my frustration with fake belters. And, well, if I was married to a hot shot lawyer then I wouldn’t be married to Jeremy Kushnier would I? And that would be a major minus.
You and Jeremy have two beautiful daughters – Nora and Penelope. How old are they now?
Nora is three and a half, and Penelope just turned two. Funny enough, Penelope’s nickname is Patsy! It started with Nora calling her “Pats” and it just morphed. So sweet. That makes this role even more special.
Closes June 30, 2013
Infinity Theatre at
CTA Theatre Complex
1661 Bay Head Road
Annapolis , MD
Finish this statement: “As an actress, being the mommy of two little girls is …”
Do your girls have a favorite voice or character you have done or do for them?
Nora loves my “cowgirl” voice. And actually does a good one herself. Pats loves my “Clair Huxtable” (laughing)!
But a funny story comes to mind: I was cramming for Forbidden Broadway and decided to do a character a day to really get them into my body, just at home, during my day to day routine. One day, I was having a “Judy” morning, and after about two hours, Nora sighs, “Mama, can you PLEASE stop doing your Wizard of Oz voice!” That’s when I accepted that I nailed it and moved on.
You also have a very interesting blog – “Pinned Down Pin Up.
I have wanted to write a cookbook for a long time. And from and early age I was always interested in writing. Through Facebook, I was getting a lot of response from my candid posts about pregnancy and motherhood. I finally decided (on the heels of a bad audition experience) to combine the two and “Pinned Down Pin Up” was born. It was something that gives me a creative outlet but that I also have 100 percent control over. Unlike that damned audition – shakes fist, throws vase – Haha.
Why do we need to come see Always … Patsy Cline at Infinity in Annapolis?
The story. It’s a heartwarming, hilarious story of loyalty and friendship. You love the music, and this show will make you instantly fall in love with the lady – well, hopefully – if I do my job well. But beyond that? You’ll get to say you “saw Infinity Theatre Company when…” Alan Ostroff and Anna are about to explode into big time Broadway producers. I know of their passion to bring quality entertainment to the area, but I also know of their extreme talents and ambitions. Don’t miss out on this amazing show! Your friends will be chattering about it for years and if you don’t see it you’ll be totally left out of social circles, and probably lose all your friends. I mean, do you really want to take that chance?
Jenny Lee Stern’s blog about life and recipes: www.pinneddownpinup.blogspot.com