Sara Catherine Wheatley plays the iconic role for Broadway Rose Theatre Company
Sara Catherine Wheatley is the living image of the late, great Patsy Cline when she dons the outfits, wigs and makeup, so it is only natural that she is playing Cline for the third time in her life in Broadway Rose Theatre Companys production of Always Patsy Cline.
Wheatley, whose singing voice sounds remarkably similar to Clines, originally played the role in 2005 in her native Alabama, which led to her starring turn in the 2009 Broadway Rose production.
Sharon Maroney, who is a Broadway Rose co-founder along with her husband Dan Murphy and is also the companys artistic director, was set to play the role of Clines friend Louise Seger in the 2009 production.
Wheatley had first performed for Broadway Rose in its 2008 production of Nite Club Confidential, and in 2009 Maroney said, I loved Sara Catherines versatile voice, but I wondered if she had enough of Patsys vocal qualities to sing so many of her famous songs.
Then Maroney learned that Wheatley had performed the role before, and a director friend saw her do the show and was emphatic that she was perfect for the part.
Ironically, now that Wheatley is 29, she is only a year younger than Cline when she was tragically killed in a private plane crash while touring.
Wheatley, who grew up taking singing lessons and appearing in school plays, earned a degree in theater from the University of Alabama and moved to Portland in 2007, where she started appearing in local theater productions.
And while she doesnt feel typecast appearing as Patsy Cline for the third time, she noted that its not unusual in the theater for actors to repeat roles.
Certainly some people play roles over and over and get known for them – like Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly! Wheatley said. Its lovely to play Patsy again. Ive played other roles again in different productions. And this time, acting with Sharon again using the same director, plus some of the same clothes, its fun but surreal.
When I did this the first time here, I was still new in town and had only done a couple of shows. Sharon was my boss and taught me so much. Then two years ago we did a Christmas show together, and now were much closer friends. Everyone who worked on this before is so excited to be doing it together again."
After Wheatleys first turn in Portland as Patsy Cline, she didnt work at Broadway Rose for a while but appeared in productions for other local theater companies, including Portland Center Stage, Artists Repertory Theatre, Lakewood Theatre Company and Portland Playhouse.
I was doing all kinds of acting and even did a couple of straight plays, Wheatley said. When you audition, you can hope to get roles, but I dont get everything I audition for. Portland is not like New York City, where you audition five days a week. Here, every few months, something comes along. There is a finite amount of work here, and you have to judge if you want something so badly that you give up being in something else for a chance to perform that role.
Sometimes you go from show to show to show, and other times there are long breaks. Last fall, I took a break and went to visit my family and work on my independent music project, a rock/country album.
Wheatley admits to being a food lover and home gourmet, and when she isnt on stage, she has a part-time job working at Krugers Farm Market on Hawthorne in Portland, selling fruits and vegetables outside in a tent, a job she started 10 months ago.
There are other actors working there, and our boss is supportive of all of us, Wheatley said. We are given flexibility in our schedules to audition, rehearse and perform. Its very part time. There are not many people in the Portland theater community who dont have part-time jobs. Very few people recognize me from the stage when Im at the store, and I love working there.
For her rock/country album, Wheatley is writing music and lyrics with her music partner Eric Holder, who is not the attorney general but a guitar player and multi-instrumentalist, she points out.
As of now, they have finished the first four songs, called the extended play, or EP for short, and hopefully we will have our first full-length album done by fall, Wheatley said.
The partners plan is to have the EP on sale at Always Patsy Cline performances, with Wheatley noting, Were excited about this opportunity to introduce it now.
When they go on in the future to perform songs from the album live, we would have a full band, Wheatley said. Ultimately our goal is to go on tour and perform the music.
But this is really hard – Ive never written music before. Its a very vulnerable thing to do to lay it out there on the line. You need to trust your partner. Ive never been on the creative end before - its eye-opening.
The collaboration started after Wheatley and Holder played in an 80s cover band called Dee Dee Foxx and the Stimulus Package with friends at bars.
We realized we worked well together and talked about writing music, Wheatley said. We thought that the country music genre would be the most accepting of our efforts. Ive always been interested in country music – thats what comes out of me naturally.
Eric is an unbelievably gifted guitar player, and country music is one of the only genres where the guitar is showcased. And there is so little pretension in country music.
According to Wheatley, the duo does everything on their own, including playing all the instruments, all vocals, recording, mixing and producing.
They also have utilized Kickstarter.com, where artists of all kinds have an opportunity to raise money for their projects through people pledging funds.
Meanwhile, Wheatleys current focus is on performing in Always Patsy Cline, with one big change from four years ago: There have been advances in technology that will make the show even more visually stunning.
When I had my first costume fitting, I knew it was going to be fabulous, Wheatley said. Its a great show to perform in, and the audience loves it. Being able to sing great music all the time is a real gift for me. The show is such a celebration of Patsy, but it was a different time. Today a star wouldnt go home with a fan like Patsy does with Louise, but it was a more innocent time, and the show captures that.
Ive been very fortunate in Portland and lucky to have worked in all the places I have – Ive been part of some pretty wonderful shows. The Portland theater community is tight-knit and professional. Were all supportive of each other. I will never, ever be able to be away from the theater.
Luckily for Wheatley, she doesnt have to worry about what her next job will be – she is performing in Broadway Roses production of Cats, which opens at the end of June.