Even offstage there is a palpable connection between the two women who play Patsy Cline and her ultimate fan, Louise Seger.
Heather Parrish, as Patsy, and Melissa Rae Wilkeson, as Louise, share a finish-each-other's-sentences, get-each-other's-jokes, understand-each-other's-struggles kind of back and forth that defines the best female friendships.
Their chemistry, said Tonda-Leah Fields, who is directing the duo in Always ... Patsy Cline, "is just something special."
So when Lexington's Studio Players decided to revisit the Ted Swindley musical that was a local smash in 2009, "There was never any question" who would play the leads, Fields said.
The show, which features the two women and a five-piece band, tells the true story of the late country music legend, famous for songs such as I Fall to Pieces, Crazy and Sweet Dreams, and her relationship with a Houston fan.
A mutual love of the story might be the thing that makes the connection between the actresses, both Central Kentucky theater veterans, so strong.
Wilkeson said she waited 16 years to play Louise and would play her again and again if she had the chance.
"I can play this role forever," she said, clearly comfortable in her costume of teased, mile-high hair, blue eye shadow and pink satin shirt with gold fringe.
Parrish said playing Patsy is satisfying and challenging. Once she slips into character, tucking her naturally red hair under the brown wig, "I just feel present, like 'I am here.'"
Since 2009, Wilkeson has donned the sparkly cowgirl wear to play Louise in a 2010 production by Maysville Players.
Parrish, who appeared last year in Studio Players' production of The Great American Trailer Park Musical, has been working on another kind of project — motherhood. She was pregnant during her last turn as Patsy and jokes that her son, Billy Jude, made his first appearance (in utero) on the Carriage House stage.
With experience come expectations. And both women know audiences anticipate a great show.
"We have a pretty high bar that we have to meet," said Parrish, "and we want to exceed it."
Fields said taking a second swipe at the same story has allowed the production to go a little deeper, work out kinks that were apparent only to the cast and crew.
Jessica Slaton, music director, is new to the Patsy team. But, she said, she quickly felt like part of the family. Since both leads knew the music, she said, they could add subtle intricacies — extending notes, changing the tempo — to the vocal performances to punctuate key moments in the story.
"It's given everybody some more room to play," said Fields. But, she said, "it is the same show at the heart that people remember from last time."
Like last time, she said, tickets are expected to go quickly. The first weekend is sold out, so she wants to make sure people get their tickets in advance. That way, as Patsy herself sang in Come on In, patrons may "sit right down and make yourself at home."
If you go
'Always ... Patsy Cline'
What: Studio Players' revival of its hit 2009 production of Ted Swindley's musical
When: 8 p.m. July 12, 13, 18-20, 25-27, Aug. 1-3. 2:30 p.m. July 14, 21, 28, Aug. 4.
Where: Carriage House Theatre, 154 W. Bell Court.
Tickets: $21. Call (859) 257-4929 or go to Studioplayers.org.
Mary Meehan: (859) 231-3261. Twitter: @bgmoms. Blog: BluegrassMoms.com.