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Did you know where Patsy Cline got her voice? Speaking as the singer herself, fringed red dress, white cowboy boots and all, Larraine Olnowich confided to the audience at the Marco Players Theater at the Marco Town Center.
It was a teenage bout with rheumatic fever that altered her vocal cords, and gave a powerful, distinctive sound that “boomed like Kate Smith,” said Cline/Olnowich. Rescheduled from December due to voice issues of Olnowich’s (not Cline’s), the one-woman show, Tribute to Patsy Cline, was part of the Marco Players’ popular Lunch Box Series, in which a less than full-length show is followed by a box lunch and a Q&A session with the performer(s).
Olnowich seemed to channel the groundbreaking singer, who pioneered the way for many female vocalists from Loretta Lynn to Brenda Lee. She even looked as Cline might have, had she not died an untimely death, as did so many touring musicians, in a private plane crash.
Alternating between anecdotes from the life and career of Patsy Cline, and songs which illustrated them, Olnowich seemed at home on the stage and in the persona of the singer. Originally from Binghampton, New York, Larraine Olnovich has written and performed no fewer than 10 original shows, said Marco Players artistic director Beverly Dahlstrom, while introducing the performance to the sold-out house.
The daughter of a single mother just 16 years older than herself, Patsy Cline broke the mold for country singers. While she initially resisted going beyond a straight country-western sound, she eventually became the standard bearer for the crossover country artist, making songs such as “Always,” “I Fall to Pieces,” and “Crazy” into hits on the pop and adult-contemporary or easy listening charts, as well as in Nashville.
Olnowich told Cline’s story from the young girl, originally named Virginia Patterson Hensley, who talked her way onto a local country music radio variety show, to being hired – and fired – as a regular on Arthur Godfrey’s national TV show, becoming a featured artist with the Grand Ole Opry, and becoming the first woman inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. She bought her mother a Cadillac, and nearly died in it when she was thrown through the windshield in a head-on collision.
Olnowich invited the crowd to sing along with “Anytime,” paced the stage on “Walkin’ After Midnight,” and said, “see, ladies, this is what fringe is for,” making hers shimmy on “Shake, Rattle and Roll.” She used a framed picture and a bouquet of roses as props for the poignant “She’s Got You.” And still in character, she invited the audience back after their box lunches for “a little chitchat.”
The Lunch Box Series continues on March 10 with “Attack Bunnies Live” and April 14 with “MacBeth, A Love Story.” But first, on Feb. 15, “Visiting Mr. Green” begins a run that will last through Mar. 4. The last scheduled show, “Bus Stop,” has been replaced by a return to the Marco Players’ go-to playwright, Neil Simon, with “Last of the Red Hot Lovers,” said Dahlstrom.