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Music legend Patsy Cline lives again at the Straz Center

Bill DeYoung

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Heather Krueger grew up in Valrico, in Hillsborough County. She's from a different generation than Patsy Cline. "My mom put me in voice lessons when I was 14," Krueger says. "I really wanted to be Whitney Houston. Or Bette Midler. Or Madonna, any of those would do." Photo: Rob Harris

It’s a long way from Winchester, Virginia to Valrico, Florida, but Heather Krueger is closing the gap by the sheer power and emotionality of her singing voice.

Krueger, the Floridian, is portraying Virginia country music legend Patsy Cline in a musical opening this week at the Jaeb Theater, part of the Straz Center complex in Tampa.

The show, opening Nov. 5 and running through Dec. 6, is Ted Swindley’s Always … Patsy Cline.

Patsy Cline

Cline (1932-63) is considered one of the greatest, if not the all-time best, female country music singer.

“I think the first time I heard her was in a theme park show,” recalls Krueger, a veteran of bay area musical theater stages. “It was somebody singing ‘Crazy.’ I looked her up and I said ‘Well, this girl’s voice is so interesting.’ I love that’s she’s dark and she yodels, she’s all over the place.”

Cline, whose best-known songs include the aforementioned “Crazy” (written by Willie Nelson), “I Fall to Pieces,” “She’s Got You” and “Walkin’ After Midnight,” sang with a wholly unique combination of heartache, vulnerability … and willfulness.

“She’s known for country, but when you really break it down, I don’t think she’s just country,” Krueger says. “She’s clearly influenced by lots of different things. She just did whatever she wanted to do. And that’s so intriguing to me. She just had so much soul in her vocals.”

Always … Patsy Cline isn’t a jukebox musical, with one song after another – oh, there are plenty of songs, with Krueger accompanied by a live, four-piece band, but the fulcrum is a script (based on a true story) in which a Texas housewife reads letters that Patsy, her pen pal, has sent from the road.

Krueger “found” her portrayal of the legend by listening, over and over again, to Cline’s heart-wrenching recordings. “It’s a way to communicate things that sometimes you can’t say out loud, as Heather. You can connect to it through a lyric. And when I really started listening to Patsy Cline, that’s what she does.

“You just feel everything that she’s feeling when she’s singing those songs. She’s connecting with whatever it is in her life, and it’s pouring through her in these vocals. And I just think that’s such magic! How does that not make you feel something?”

Krueger’s professional resume includes stints on cruise ships, in regional theaters in theme park shows (including Busch Gardens Tampa) and with local companies including Stageworks and Jobsite.

In the mid ‘90s, she began a long association with the Straz Center’s theatrical repertory company. In March, she was in the middle of Shout! The Mod Musical, at the Jaeb, when the pandemic descended and forced all stages to go dark.

Always … Patsy Cline is being staged in a socially-distanced, low-capacity Jaeb Theater.

“I feel so blessed to be able to be back onstage, and so grateful that the Straz is taking this chance,” Krueger explains. “And they’re being so careful. They sent me a 25-page safety plan to read. And they said ‘We only want you to do this if you’re comfortable with all of these things.’”

When she arrived for her first Patsy rehearsal, she discovered the set for Shout! was still there on the stage, right where they’d left it in the spring.

“It was so weird and surreal,” Krueger says, “but so amazing at the same time. So there was a lot of emotion.”

Tickets and all safety information can be found here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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