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A New Generation Stands By the Songs of Patsy Cline : Country Music: The legendary singer’s ‘Hits’ album has been at or near the top of a Billboard chart for 203 weeks. Now comes a touring show about her relationship with a devoted fan.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rarely lacking for confidence during a life tragically cut short by a plane crash in 1963, Patsy Cline once vowed to a friend even before she’d had a Top 10 hit: “I’m gonna sell a million records.”

She did that--and a lot more--but not even the optimistic Cline would have predicted that, more than 30 years after her death, she would still be adding to her legacy as a country music legend.

Her “Greatest Hits” album has topped Billboard magazine’s country catalogue chart, which measures sales of vintage as opposed to new releases, almost every week since the chart’s inception some 4 1/2 years ago--203 weeks in all.

And nearly two dozen of the songs made famous by the singer, from “Walkin’ After Midnight” to “Crazy” to “I Fall to Pieces,” are at the heart of “Always . . . Patsy Cline,” a two-woman musical drama that was one of Nashville’s top attractions the last two years. The show drew almost 250,000 fans to the Ryman Auditorium, former home of the Grand Ole Opry.

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In addition, three touring versions of the show, which is sort of a hybrid of theater and tribute concert, have enjoyed surprising success around the country, drawing turn-away crowds everywhere from Denver to Philadelphia.

Headed for a possible Broadway run next fall, the show makes its Los Angeles debut Tuesday night at the House of Blues.

“The music is timeless, and I think she falls into the legendary status--like Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland and James Dean,” says “Always . . . " producer Randy Johnson, attempting to explain the singer’s undiminished appeal. “She still endures.”

Bruce Hinton, chairman of MCA/Nashville, calls Cline a phenomenon who should be mentioned in the same breath as Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and the Beatles.

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“When people talk about the artists who were the leaders in defining the music of the last half of this century, those three names are always brought up, but Patsy is seldom mentioned,” he says. “I’m on a mission to make sure she gets included in that select circle. She well deserves to be there.”

Cline, only 30 when she died en route to Nashville after performing at a benefit concert in Kansas City, blended country’s raw emotion and simplicity with pop’s silky smoothness in a singing style that has influenced countless modern female singers, from Linda Ronstadt to Emmylou Harris to k.d. lang.

“Always . . . Patsy Cline,” which originated in Houston in 1988, has been performed in many incarnations, earning mostly positive reviews.

Written by J. Ted Swindley, founder of the Stages Repertory Theater in Houston, it is based on the true-life relationship between Cline and Louise Seger, a devoted Cline fan who turned a chance 1961 meeting with the singer into a friendship that lasted until Cline’s death two years later.

At the House of Blues, Rusty Rae will portray Cline and Cathy Barnett will play Seger. An original cast album from the Ryman performances, featuring Mandy Barnett in the title role, was released this year by MCA.

Since interest in Cline’s music was rekindled by “Sweet Dreams,” a 1985 film biography starring Jessica Lange, sales of Cline records have held steady at almost 1 million a year, Hinton says. “Greatest Hits” alone has sold 7 million copies, about a third of them in the last five years.

“She just keeps being discovered by generation after generation,” Hinton says. “Patsy is never a hard sell because her music is not about style or fad. She just does great straight-ahead music as well as it’s ever been done.”


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