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Sara Catherine Wheatley takes the stage again as Patsy Cline for Broadway Rose

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: CRAIG MITCHELLDYER - Sara Catherine Wheatley, shown here in a 2009 publicity shot for 'Always... Patsy Cline,' depicts Cline later in her career when she ditched the cowgirl outfits and became more sophisticated. 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 she is playing Cline for the third time in her life in Broadway Rose Theatre Company’s production of “Always… Patsy Cline.”

Wheatley, whose singing voice sounds remarkably similar to Cline’s, originally played the role in 2005 in her native Alabama, which led to her starring 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 company’s artistic director, was set to play the role of Cline’s 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 Catherine’s versatile voice, but I wondered if she had enough of Patsy’s 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 doesn’t feel “typecast” appearing as Patsy Cline for the third time, she noted that it’s 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. “It’s lovely to play Patsy again. I’ve played other roles again in different productions. And this time, acting with Sharon again using the same director, plus some of the same clothes, it’s 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 we’re much closer friends. Everyone who worked on this before is so excited to be doing it together again.”by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: CRAIG MITCHELLDYER - In a scene from the 2009 Broadway Rose production of 'Always... Patsy Cline,' Sharon Maroney as Louise Seger (left) and Sara Catherine Wheatley as Patsy Cline sing up a storm while cooking dinner in Seger's kitchen.

Working on an album

After Wheatley’s first turn in Portland as Patsy Cline, she didn’t 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 don’t 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 isn’t on stage, she has a part-time job working at Kruger’s 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. It’s very part time. There are not many people in the Portland theater community who don’t have part-time jobs. Very few people recognize me from the stage when I’m 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 SUBMITTED PHOTO: CRAIG MITCHELLDYER - Sara Catherine Wheatley as singer Patsy Cline poses for publicity shots for the 2009 Broadway Rose production of 'Always... Patsy Cline,' which came in handy since the show is being produced again this year.

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, “We’re excited about this opportunity to introduce it now.”

On the line

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 — I’ve never written music before. It’s a very vulnerable thing to do to lay it out there on the line. You need to trust your partner. I’ve never been on the creative end before — it’s 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. I’ve always been interested in country music — that’s 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, vocals, recording, mixing and producing.

They also have utilized, where artists of all kinds have an opportunity to raise money for their projects through people pledging funds.

Great music is a gift

Meanwhile, Wheatley’s 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. “It’s 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 wouldn’t go home with a fan like Patsy does with Louise, but it was a more innocent time, and the show captures that.

“I’ve been very fortunate in Portland and lucky to have worked in all the places I have — I’ve been part of some pretty wonderful shows. The Portland theater community is tight-knit and professional. We’re all supportive of each other. I will never, ever be able to be away from the theater.”

Luckily for Wheatley, she doesn’t have to worry about what her next job will be — she is performing in Broadway Rose’s production of “Cats,” which opens at the end of June.

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