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September 25, 2019

Broadway Goes Country

The wigs! The songs! Transforming into Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn took some visual and vocal acrobatics.

Libby Slate
  • Megan Hilty as Patsy Cline and Jessie Mueller as Loretta Lynn

    Jake Giles Netter

By the time she died in 1963 in a plane crash, Patsy Cline had become a successful crossover pop singer, thanks largely to her hit recording of Willie Nelson’s “Crazy.”

Loretta Lynn has had a rich career as a country singer-songwriter. Early on, Cline mentored her, and they became best friends. The Lifetime movie Patsy & Loretta, which premieres October 19, chronicles that friendship. Megan Hilty (Smash, Broadway’s 9 to 5) and Jessie Mueller (Tony winner for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical) play the title roles; they spoke with emmy’s Libby Slate.

What was key to your portrayals?

Megan Hilty: I wanted to hear Patsy speak. There’s so little of her voice recorded just talking, not in a presentational way. She was ashamed of her lack of education and resisted talking because she didn’t want to expose that. I had to guess what she would sound like if there wasn’t a microphone in front of her.

Jessie Mueller: I was never going to sound just like Loretta Lynn — she has such an iconic voice. It was all about trying to capture something about the essence, the phrasing. She sang the way she spoke, and that was a big thing for her. Early producers tried to influence her sound, and she said, “This is how I sing.”

You’re both musical theater stars. How was it  singing country music?

MH: My classical training helped a lot. The yodel and the breaking off the notes, which sounds  kind of like crying, are similar to a lot of classical  exercises. Both classical music and country music have a lot of interval [the range between notes] acrobatics.

JM: The lyric and form in musical theater are so similar to country music, which is all about singing about your life, what you’re going through — joy or heartbreak. And the way it’s set up is similar: the turn of the lyrics after the bridge, and then often coming back to that first thought. There are more similarities than people think.

Let’s talk about those wigs. Did they help?

MH: My first question was, “What’s the wig situation?” They said, “It’s a top priority,” and they completely came through. Because of hair and makeup, I felt like I was able to just go and do my job.

JM: The first time we put the wigs on, it was a little shocking, because it’s so different. But once you put that thing on, you’re like, “Oh, there she is.”

What was it like singing at the Ryman Auditorium at the Grand Ole Opry?

MH: When we were on the stage, Jessie and I kept looking at each other, saying, “We’re going to call each other [years from now] and be like, ‘Hey, remember that time we were at the Ryman, and we were singing and dancing, dressed up like Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn?’”

JM: It’s like holy ground. There’s something spiritual going on at that building. Right before the performances, it was always a little nerve-wracking. But once we were in it, it was a thrill.

At its heart, this movie is about friendship. Were there any parallels between Patsy & Loretta and Megan & Jessie?

JM: Megan was great. I haven’t done a great deal of television, and I watched her on set and learned how to conduct myself. She’s just such a hard worker and is kind to everyone. That’s the kind of people I like to work with.

MH: We’d met several times and have mutual friends, but we’d never worked together before. I knew as an audience member what an incredible talent Jessie is, but to work with her every day was a dream. Whether she likes it or not, we’re friends for life.

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 9, 2019

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