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Always...Patsy Cline At Shawnee

Bri Lindsey clowining as Louise Seger with an appreciative Holli Burnfield as Patsy Cline. Ryan Arford photography.

I'm George Walker for WFIU Arts

Always… Patsy Cline is a quite wonderful start for the 59th season at Bloomfield's Shawnee Theatre. The singing from Holli Burnfield is moving and spot on, the Flyover Band led by Brian Samarzea is creative and together, the comedy from Shawnee's producing artistic director Bri Lindsey is more fun than anyone in the audience expected.

Always… Patsy Cline by Ted Swindley is based on a true story. In 1957 Houston housewife Louise Seger was doing the breakfast dishes while her children were diverted with the Arthur Godfrey show on television. Seger was simply captivated by the singing of Patsy Cline and converted to being an avid fan. For the next years Seger deviled the local radio station with regular requests for more of the singer.

Then in 1961 Cline came to Houston for a solo show. Seger and her friends arrived hours early and actually met the singer. The two women hit it off. Â Cline even stayed at Seger's home before her commercial plane flight the next day. Over coffee in the kitchen the two shared family stories, hopes, dreams and a few heart aches. It was an ongoing friendship between the two that continued with letters and phone calls until the singer's death in a private plane crash in 1963.

The show roughly follows Cline's career and her changing image. Early on costumer Zechariah Saenz has her in cow girl fringe with a later transition to pants suits and then a more glamorous look. The song hits flow as well. There are the cheating songs like "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" and "Your Cheatin' Heart." Â The show samples novelty tunes like "Gotta Lotta Rhythm" and "Shake, Rattle and Roll." Â Then there are the hits; "Sweet Dreams," "Wallkin' After Midnight," "Faded Love," "Crazy" and of course the historic cross over to the pop charts "I Fall to Pieces."

Throughout the show Holli Burnfield does a really fine job as Patsy Cline. Her voice is strong and true, she has the style down pat. She's always warm, friendly and also somehow dignified as the singer. This leaves an open field for the often outrageous and endearing clowning of Bri Lindsey as Louise. She lectured, talked and cajoled the audience throughout the evening. Laughter was abundant. I'm sure her somewhat reluctant dance partner from the front row will never forget his experience.

The music director for Always…Patsy Cline, Brian Samarzea led the Flyover Band from the keyboard for the show. They were a disciplined group, and clearly out for the evening's fun as well. I especially enjoyed the lap steel and banjo playing of Evan Wright and on occasion the group's vocals reminded me a little of the famous Jordanaires.

Wednesday night's audience included four busloads of guests from IU's Life Long Learning Program. Several told me that they hadn't really known what to expect. Â It was a friendly, appreciative and gradually more and more involved group. There was applause for the songs with plenty of laughter for Bri Lindsey's clowning as Louise By the finale there was a standing ovation and demands for encores.

Always Patsy Cline at the Shawnee Theatre continues this weekend with evening shows at seven and a two o'clock matinee on Sunday. You can hear an interview with producing artistic director, and comedian Bri Lindsey and Danielle O'Connor at WFIU. ORG/ARTS

At the theatre for you, I'm George Walker

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