'Sweet Dreams' come true for West Fargo native; Joie Sherman portrays country music legend Patsy Cline
Joie Sherman can now add to her list of accomplishments the starring role in "Always... Patsy Cline."
Quite a distinction given the production correlated with the 80th anniversary of the historic Sooner Theatre located in Norman, Okla., where Sherman currently makes her home.
A 2004 graduate of West Fargo High School, Sherman initially started her theatrical career at Trollwood Performing Arts School the summer after eighth grade. "I loved it so much, that the first thing I did when I got to West Fargo High School was to enroll in a beginning theatre class and audition for the musicals. I loved performing, singing, writing, and was lucky to have teachers who supported my interests."
She went on to earn a B.F.A. in musical theatre from the University of Oklahoma in May of 2008. After graduating, she began teaching voice lessons and musical theatre classes at the Sooner Theatre in downtown Norman. Prior to graduation, Sherman had also performed in several productions in a variety of locations including The Black Hills Playhouse, the University of Oklahoma, Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, and most recently at the Sooner Theatre
"Poised, graceful, convincing as Patsy Cline down to the boyish gait and the gawky, comical timing, the stage was hers from the initial touchdown of the sole of her white cowboy boots," is how a local reviewer summed up Sherman's performance during the three day run of "Always...Patsy Cline," Jan. 30, 31 and Feb. 1.
Director Trevin Cooper said much of the credit for coming up with the idea for the production was directly attributable to the leading lady, and rightfully so. Last year, Sherman had thought about auditioning for "Always...Patsy Cline" in Austin, Texas. She had recorded a demo of five recognizable Patsy Cline tunes, sent it to the theatre and then was asked to audition.
About a week before she flew to Austin, Sherman said she had the strong realization that she needed a year of stability. "I didn't think it would be best to be constantly traveling right after graduating, so I made the decision to stay in Norman and teach. I knew, however, that I wouldn't be happy if I wasn't performing, so I pitched the idea to produce the show to my boss at the Sooner Theatre. I gave her my demo, and she called me very confused and said, "Joie, why did you give me a c.d. of Patsy Cline? I know what Patsy sounds like." Well, when I told her that what she heard was actually me, she immediately said, "We're producing the show."
Sherman is modest about her role, which involved only a two-person cast - she and her costar "chelle Breedlove, who played the role of Cline's friend Louise Seger. Getting in touch with Cline's character helped Sherman accurately portray the emotion of 27 different songs featured in the performance that have endured the decades since the country music legend's untimely death in a plane crash at the age of 30 in 1963.
The story is narrated by a woman who had corresponded with Cline through letters up until her death. She speaks to the audience directly about her first meeting with Patsy, and then their story is recreated through flashbacks on stage. "It's unique, because while it's a musical, it's really more of a concert," Sherman explained. "It's a minimal set with Patsy singing center stage at the microphone with the band behind her. While she's singing, the other character, Louise, encourages audience members to dance, chat, etc. It's definitely not a stuffy theatrical event."
There were ten different costume changes as well as wig changes throughout the production adding to the glamour of each of the song presentations. "Thankfully, I had a wonderful dresser backstage to help me execute each change quickly," Sherman said. "In this business, you really realize that everyone is equally important and that like anything else, teamwork is truly a necessity."
Preparing for the role, Sherman started working on the songs months in advance so she was "as memorized as possible" for the three weeks of rehearsal time allowed. "I liked Patsy Cline, but wasn't familiar with all of her music. What I discovered when learning her music was exactly what so many other people had discovered when they listened to Patsy - you feel like you're sharing a personal conversation. She was a brilliant vocalist who knew how to tell a story. After channeling her for so long, I hope I'll continue to remember those qualities when writing and singing my own music. I wish the world could have had her around longer."
All in all, Sherman said the production was the best experience she's had as a performer. "It was theatrical, but not stereotypically so. Portraying Patsy Cline was quite a challenge, but incredibly rewarding. Most important, every show was a joy to perform because it's a story with an enormous amount of heart."
The historic Sooner Theatre also proved to be the perfect setting. "It really is a beautiful theatre with a lot of character. The production team wanted the audience to feel as if they were at an Opry or live music venue. Whether is was the old microphone placed center stage, the close proximity of the stage to the audience, or the fantastic acoustics, I think theatre goers definitely felt like they'd seen something unusual."
Sadly, there were only three performances of the show. Sherman acknowledged the time went by way too fast and she is currently in negotiations with the theatre to fly back sometime next year and perform the role again. "I am going to try to audition for as many productions of this musical as I can, but ultimately, I would love to bring it to the West Fargo/Fargo-Moorhead area," which would make her family extremely happy. She is the daughter of Gary and Linda Schultz of rural Harwood, and the late Roger Sherman.
It goes without saying, her parents are her biggest fans, having made 16 trips (956 miles traveling down there) to see their daughter perform and support her. "Over the years we have never missed a show and have always been extremely proud of her," Linda said. "I thought this one was incredible. She has the gift to be able to imitate voices that is unbelievable. To hear her on stage, I felt I was looking at Patsy Cline."
"Looking back, there are many people in West Fargo and Trollwood who have helped develop her talent and who have contributed to her success. We are so grateful to all of them. The recent production of "Always....Patsy Cline" left us both spellbound! It was a culmination of a decade of hard work. For those of us who grew up listening to Patsy Cline, I can say that Joie's performance was "spot on" - we could have watched it again and again."
When she's not performing or teaching at the Sooner, Sherman can also be found auditioning for commercials and doing voice-over work. She auditioned for her first commercial last year for a casino and flew to Los Angeles for part of the shoot. "It's very different than the theatre, but I really love it and enjoy all of the people on set. Since that first commercial, I have filmed commercials for Toyota, the Oklahoma Lottery, the state's largest electric and gas company, state tourism and most recently, a promotion for a cancer center. Voice-over work has been the most surprising. You literally go into the studio for five minutes, record in a couple different styles, and then call it a day. I just completed a radio spot for the lottery. My strength as a performer is all of the different voices I can impersonate or create, so voice-over work really allows me to have some fun."
"Musically, I am interested in exploring all realms. I sing jazz with a local quartet, musical theatre, country western and currently, am starting to write some songs that have a bluesy/folk influence. My boyfriend works for the USDA by day, but is a guitarist by night. We have begun collaborating and hope to start performing this summer."
She is quick to point out that she has been inspired throughout this whole process by family and friends. "I would thank my loving parents for supporting my dreams, my wonderful family, friends and instructors who always encouraged me to cultivate my talent, and my boyfriend, John Johnson, who constantly tells me to reach for the stars."
As for what's next, she said that knowing that the future is a blank canvas is most enjoyable. "I am excited to see what unfolds, and right now, I am very happy personally and professionally." She said her ultimate goal is to live a balanced life. "I would love to continue performing, but I want to come home to a loving family. I don't care to have one without the other."
She will be moving to Washington D.C. in May, and is excited about being part of a major market where she will be auditioning for commercials, involved in voice-over work and theatrical work and also hoping to explore the live music scene. "It's a great hub for actors and musicians, and unlike other major cities, has wide-open spaces. I really am a product of the Great Plains, and proudly so!"