BWW Interviews: Greg White Talks FLIPSIDE: THE PATTI PAGE STORY
FLIPSIDE: THE Patti Page STORY is taking to the road. In anticipation of the production's Texas stops, I chatted with writer and director Greg White about the show. He explains, "It's not a revue. It's her story," and that the show itself is "funny and very poignant." He also told me that the show has a little something for everyone. After all, "they call Patti [Page] Country-politan. She was one of the first crossover artists that did country, jazz, and pop. Believe it or not she did some R&B. Patti did everything."
BWW: What initially inspired you to write FLIPSIDE: THE Patti Page STORY?
Greg White: I've been a Patti Page fan my entire life. My dad introduced me to the fantastic world of the music of Patti Page. I've just always been enamored with her, her sound, and her image. I've always been an admirer, a big fan. She's an Okie; she's from Oklahoma, so I think that bonded me even more to her. That made me feel even more of a loyalty to her.
BWW: How did you research FLIPSIDE: THE Patti Page STORY?
Greg White: In 2007, at the Oklahoma Centennial, I met Patti Page. I pitched the project to her and her management at that time and started the ball rolling. I did a series of interviews with her over a span of a couple of years. I also had access to her autobiography, even before it was published. Even the Oklahoma History Center was kind enough to give me every newspaper article that had Patti's name in it since the late 40s. I just had lots of resources and lots of ways to put this story together.
BWW: The musical features 28 of Patti Pages' many hit songs. How did you decide which songs made it into the show?
Greg White: I'll tell you that was one of the hardest parts. The research was tough. The creation was tough. It was tough to figure out how exactly we were going to frame the story and which parts of the life we were going to share. But, I think, that was one of the hardest decisions because she had 111 songs on the Billboard charts. So, I chose the songs that through conversations with Patti [Page] that I felt were songs that really touched her, songs that were really important to her, and because it is a jukebox musical, songs that tell her story. The show is a musical journey telling her story through the songs.
BWW: The jukebox musical premiered at the University of Central Oklahoma in April 2011. What was it like seeing your hard work make it onto the stage?
Greg White: Well, we have a celebrity series here. It's called "Broadway Tonight," so we premiered it on that series. It's affiliated with the University of Central Oklahoma. It was truly magical. I was thrilled because a lot Patti [Page]'s family and her friends from the area and beyond were able to come. It's always incredible to be able to see and hear your work. Patti was and then became just somebody that's very dear to me, very special to me. It was an honor for me to be able to preserve her legacy in this way.
BWW: The musical won 18 awards at the Kennedy Center National Theatre Festival in 2011. What was that experience like?
Greg White: They conduct a national festival. There are thousands of productions that are entered into this specific festival through The Kennedy Center. You actually start out at your venue, then you go to a regional festival. Then, we took it to nationals. You know, again, it was an honor to be at The Kennedy Center. I was thrilled that they were able to recognize the value of the show beyond just the music. It's a theatre festival, so we were mostly there with some really fantastic original plays. At the end of the day, there's a beautiful little, fragile play that's within these 28 songs. I think that was the thing that resonated the most and the approach that The Kennedy Center really recognized-the value beyond the commercial value. They recognized the heart, the poignancy, and the delicacy of this piece.
BWW: What inspired you to take the show on tour?
Greg White: We played Off-Broadway in December, and we had such an incredible response to the show. Through a lot of the contacts I have made throughout the development process of this show, it just seemed like the natural next step. I say it all the time, "This show really is a regional production," and I think that folks across the country are going to love the show. However, I say that and audiences in New York loved the show. They absolutely loved the show. I think we had almost as much as a effusive welcome to the show in New York as we had here in Oklahoma. Again, Patti [Page] is, in so many regards, America in the 1950s. I think she's an individual that is still loved and admired by so many. I love the fact that this show introduces her to a whole new generation, so I think it's not just an opportunity, it's my duty to take this show on the road because I really want to share Patti and her legacy.
BWW: What do you hope audiences get out of the musical?
Greg White: It's a beautiful piece. (Pauses) In Patti's personal life there was hardship, like with anyone else. There was conflict, heartache, and tragedy. It was very difficult to decide on what I wanted to share. You get to choose any moment in someone's life. She had such a humble, gentle, and genuine spirit off stage, and she was just dynamite onstage. I loved sharing that aspect of Patti because people, of course, know her music, and I think through this piece get to know her. The piece is not as much about the dirt about Patti Page or the "real story behind the music." It's really a piece that I feel like just introduces Patti Page to the world. Her sister, who saw the show here in Oklahoma, literally told me, "You nailed it. This is Patti." I went to New York with the show in December, and her publicist, who was with her for 15 years and hadn't spoken to her sister, said the same thing to me. He said, "This is Patti. This show is Patti." I'm very proud of that. I'm proud of that aspect of the show. Critics can say what they will about the conflict and whatever; the show is not about that. The show is a celebration of her life and her music.
BWW: What is your favorite part of FLIPSIDE: THE Patti Page STORY?
Greg White: I love that we get to meet and interact with the persona of Patti Page, but I love... (Pauses) You know, Patti's real name is Clara Ann Fowler, and there are two Patti Pages. There's Clara Ann Fowler and there's Patti Page. I love those poignant moments, those intimate moments, those quiet moments with Clara Ann because it's a lot like sitting down for coffee with Patti Page. There's a fragile kind of honesty about the show that I think audiences really, really respond well to. I think that's a very important distinction to make. It's not just sort of a revue of her music; it's her. It's like meeting her. It's beautiful.
BWW: What advice do you have for other people working on writing plays or musicals?
Greg White: First of all, keep at it. It's an art form we want to continue to see evolve. It's an art form that we want to see progress. (Pauses) Be honest. I think writing a play is about being honest. I had a great playwriting professor tell me, "You don't write a play about other people; you write a play about yourself." So, I think it's continuing to tell our stories. That's why we love the theatre. That's why people still go to the theatre. That's why we haven't given it up for movies or television. We still like that communal moment where we're all sitting in the dark together sharing our stories.
FLIPSIDE: THE Patti Page Story plays The Grand 1894 Opera House, 2020 Postoffice Street, Galveston, 77550 for one performance only on Saturday, November 16, 2013 at 8:00 p.m. For tickets and more information, please visit http://www.thegrand.com or call (800) 821-1894. Then, Texas audiences can catch the show at the Charles W. Eisemann Center for Performing Arts and Corporate Presentations' Hill Performance Hall, 2351 Performance Drive, Richardson, 75082 for one performance only on Saturday, November 23, 2013 at 8:00 p.m. For tickets and more information, please visit http://www.eisemanncenter.com or call (972) 744-4650.
Photos courtesy of KMP Artists.
Clara Ann Fowler.
Clara Ann Fowler & Patti Page.
Clara Ann Fowler & Ben Fowler.
Patti Page Overdubbing.
"How Much is That Doggie in the Window."