Jeannette Miller Mickenham as Patsy Cline
Jeannette Miller Mickenham in the title role sings a number during a Tuesday evening rehearsal for "Always … Patsy Cline" at the Marys River Grange Hall. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

In a way, Jeannette Miller Mickenham and Patsy Cline go way back.

Mickenham, a Philomath resident and a mid-valley community theater fixture, recalls taking road trips with her father, Robert Miller, with Cline’s classic country hits playing on the car stereo. And “Always … Patsy Cline,” the jukebox musical featuring 27 of the country legend’s songs, was among the first productions Mickenham saw with her father.

So when Mickenham decided to dust off her plans for a Philomath-based theatrical company,

“Always … Patsy Cline” was the obvious choice for the company’s first production.

And that’s the short version of how Mickenham’s fledgling AKA Jeannette Theatrical company will be performing “Always … Patsy Cline” at the Marys River Grange Hall over two weekends beginning Friday, May 13. (See below for show details and how to buy tickets.)

The longer version is a little more complicated. It involves big plans by Mickenham and her husband, Greg, to launch a performing-arts center for Philomath. The Mickenhams still have those plans, but — like so many plans by so many people — the coronavirus pandemic forced them to the back burner.

But whenever Mickenham traveled to California to visit her father, he would invariably ask her how the theatrical plans were coming along. A discouraged Mickenham would answer: “Oh, dad, I don’t know, I’m depressed, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

IF YOU GO …
What: “Always … Patsy Cline,” an AKA Jeannette Theatrical production
When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 13-14 and May 20-21 and 2 p.m. matinees on Sunday, May 15 and Sunday, May 22
Where: Marys River Grange Hall No. 685, 24707 Grange Hall Road, Philomath
How much: Tickets are $15, but dinner (catered by Philomath’s Eats & Treats) is available on Friday and Saturday nights for an additional $15. Click here for more information and to buy tickets.  

Eventually, though, a Philomath landmark Mickenham drives past twice a day helped show her a path forward. She works as an in-home caretaker, and the drive takes her past the Grange Hall. She started to wonder: Would the Grange be a possible site for a theatrical production? She asked Grange member Jay Sexton to give her a tour of the building.

“As soon as I walked in, I was like, ‘well, this is it,’” Mickenham said. “It’s much bigger than you think from outside. I love the warm atmosphere.”

With her father in mind, Mickenham then Googled “Always … Patsy Cline,” and discovered that the rights to the musical play were available — and, in fact, that the show still is popular, with more than a dozen productions every year throughout the country.

Wendy M. McCoy plays Louise Seger, a Patsy Cline fan who became friends with the singer. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

She drew on contacts made through her years doing community theater in assembling her cast and crew. The play is based in part on letters between Cline and a fan, Louise Seger, whom Cline befriended in 1961 — about the time that the singer really burst into prominence nationally with a string of hits and two years before her death in a plane crash. She cast Wendy M. McCoy as Louise — McCoy, she notes, has many more lines in the show than Mickenham does, so “she definitely has the harder job.” She reached out to Deborah Wren to serve as the show’s director.

But the show also requires six musicians to perform as Cline’s band, The Bodacious Bobcats. Mickenham started filling that role by reaching to the local band The Easy Targets, featuring Cliff Feldman on guitar, Amy Charron on bass and Paul Charron on drums; the band already featured some Cline songs in its sets. Mickenham had performed with pianist Michael Wren at the Majestic and during shows at Imagine Coffee, and he joined the band. Jay Sexton, who had shown off the Grange to Mickenham, knew Jeff Hino, who joined the Bobcats on pedal steel guitar. And then, as these things often turn out, someone knew fiddle player Kevin Craven, and he rounded out the band.

Several local musicians came together to perform in the production as The Bodacious Bobcats, which was the name of Patsy Cline’s band. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

And, of course, the show requires Mickenham to perform more than two dozen Patsy Cline songs, a tall order. Everyone knows Cline’s greatest hits – “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “Sweet Dreams (of You),” “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Back in Baby’s Arms,” “She’s Got You” — but the show goes much deeper into the iconic singer’s catalog. (Unlike some artists, though, that catalog isn’t particularly deep — she recorded only about 100 songs during her career.)

The show includes songs that audiences might be surprised to learn Cline performed, like “Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray,” “You Belong to Me,” and “Gotta Lot of Rhythm in My Soul.” The show’s upbeat songs, Mickenham said, “have been really fun to learn and do and to break things up from her slower ballads.”

“There are quite a few songs that I didn’t know that she did,” she said, “and there are quite a few songs that I just didn’t know at all. And so that’s been really fun. … People are going to get not just those iconic songs but also some other ones.”

And she hopes a successful run of “Always … Patsy Cline” fuels a string of additional productions at the Grange Hall.

Sonny Hays-Eberts, president of the Grange, hopes that’s the case as well. Theatrical productions at the Marys River Grange are a good fit for the Grange’s plans to offer more social events, said Hays-Eberts, taking note of the considerable work that Grange members have invested in upgrading the buildings and the relatively young age of its membership, especially in comparison with other civic groups. (Hays-Eberts estimated that the average age of Marys River Grange members is around 35.)

“Coming out of the pandemic, there’s a real hunger” for social events, he said — and theatrical productions could be a good part of that mix.

Jeannette Miller Mickenham hopes a successful run of “Always … Patsy Cline” fuels a string of additional productions at the Marys River Grange Hall. (Photo by Mike McInally)

For her part, Mickenham hopes that a successful production of “Always” also will help to push her plans for a performing arts center in Philomath. The plans involve a 200-seat theater as well as spaces for classrooms and community meetings.

“That’s still my eventual end goal,” she said. “I really strongly believe in the community arts and how vital they are to people’s existence. I mean, you just never know where someone is in their life and how the arts, whether it’s theater or music or painting or whatever it is, how that’s going to impact someone’s life and how much joy it can give people.”

In the meantime, “Always … Patsy Cline” continues to be a family affair for Mickenham. Her mother, Paula Cook Curtis, is sewing the costumes. And her father, Robert Miller, who saw a production of the show years ago with his daughter, donated money to help cover the costs of the show. “He’s very, very excited,” his daughter said. “He’s really over the moon.”