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Playing Patsy.

Byline: Paul Denison The Register-Guard

You might say she went stalkin' after midnight.

Shandra Sinnamon, a newcomer to Eugene but not to show biz, cheerfully admits that she did some "aggressive e-mailing" to get an early audition for the starring role in the Willamette Repertory Theatre's Hult Center production of "Always ... Patsy Cline."

She got an interview and a three-monologue audition with artistic director Kirk Boyd. Then she put her personal life on hold until she finally got the role.

A singer-songwriter with TV and film credits and a Grammy Award (for ``He's a Dream,'' which she wrote, produced and sang for the ``Flashdance'' soundtrack), Sinnamon was dead set on playing Cline, a country-pop singer who died in a 1963 plane crash but seems destined to live forever on records and on stage.

"I had released two albums of material in the styles of Willie Nelson and Patsy Cline," Sinnamon says, adding that before she got the Willamette Rep starring role she had released a new CD with a photo of her as a 5-year-old in a Patsy Cline cowgirl outfit.

"I also toured as a backup singer with Hoyt Axton," she says. "We played every honky-tonk in the United States, and that gave me some insight into Patsy Cline."

Although Sinnamon was keen on Cline from the start, director Norm Johnson Jr. admits that he was not exactly passionate about Cline until he began listening to her music and thoroughly researching her life.

"Now I'm driving my non-theater friends crazy with Patsy Cline trivia facts," he says.

Playing Cline in this two-woman show - with Emily Gilbert as Cline's real-life fan and friend, Louise Seger - is not play but work. The show has 27 songs, including two medleys and some instrumentals, and it involves 11 quick costume changes for Sinnamon.

But the main challenge, Sinnamon says, is singing in Cline's favorite keys, A-flat and E-flat, lower than her own.

"I can't sound exactly like her," she says. "I can sing in her keys and in her style, but it's still my voice."

"We're looking for the place where the two meet," Johnson says, noting that Cline's singing was not only low in pitch but also open-throated and chesty, "from a body almost perfectly free of tension."

"She was shockingly relaxed," Sinnamon adds.

"Always ... Patsy Cline" is one of two such shows. The other, "A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline," pairs the singer with a male disc jockey.

Actors Cabaret of Eugene staged "Always ... Patsy Cline" in 1997 and '98 with Shaunie Schmoll as Cline and Peg Major as Seger. In 1998, "Always ... Patsy Cline" was the most-produced play in the United States.

Willamette Rep's Kirk Boyd said he felt enough time had lapsed since the Actors Cabaret show to stage it here again, with fresh faces.

"It fits our mission of staging American works," he says. "I'm really fascinated with what makes something American. I see Patsy Cline not just as a country singer but as an American singer."

The show, he says, is like a Cline concert, with a five-piece band and a spotlight following the star. "But you also get her story told to you, directly to the audience. It's really the best of both worlds. You get music and drammer jammed together."

"We want to loosen people up, so they feel like they're in a nightclub," Sinnamon says.

Johnson says he's read reviews of other productions indicating that when the show is done right, "You forget that it's a piece of theater. You believe it's Patsy Cline there singing."

Boyd says that achieving the desired intimacy will be a challenge in the Hult's "small but formal" Soreng Theatre.

Johnson says that he and scenic designer Troy Hemmerling agreed right from the start that they both "hated the Grand Ole Opry" look and wanted to soften it up, to make it more warm, inviting and accessible.

The set is well forward and only 29 feet deep, not even reaching the back wall of the theater. It's also raked, with some honky-tonk lights out over the seats, and two sets of steps that Sinnamon/Cline can use to go out into the audience.

The instrumental music will come from the Bodacious Bobcats: Scotty Perey on piano, Chip Cohen on fiddle, Sylvain DuPlant on bass and guitar, Larry Blom on pedal steel and bass, Ishi Mederas Woods on drums.

Perey, who is a keyboardist and singer-songwriter with the Sugar Beets, is the show's musical director, a role he also filled for Willamette Rep's "Woody Guthrie's American Song" in 2000.

Along with "Walkin' After Midnight," the show includes songs by Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard (``I Fall to Pieces''), Hank Williams Sr. (``Your Cheatin' Heart''), Don Gibson (``Sweet Dreams''), Willie Nelson (``Crazy''), Bill Monroe (``Blue Moon of Kentucky''), Cole Porter (``True Love'') and Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield (``Stupid Cupid'').

It also includes traditional numbers such as "Just a Closer Walk," "How Great Thou Art" and "Bill Bailey."

The one song it doesn't include, because author and original director Ted Swindley couldn't secure the rights, is "Always."

PREVIEW

Always ... Patsy Cline

What: Willamette Repertory Theatre production directed by Norm Johnson Jr., starring Shandra Sinnamon with Emily Gilbert

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 2, 8 p.m. Dec. 3-4, 2 p.m. Dec. 5, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9, 8 p.m. Dec. 10-11 and 2 p.m. Dec. 12

Where: Soreng Theatre, Hult Center, Seventh Avenue and Willamette Street

How much: $12 to $35 (682-5000)

CAPTION(S):

Shandra Sinnamon, a singer-songwriter who has worked in TV and film, has the title role in the Willamette Repertory production of the two-women show ``Always ... Patsy Cline.'' The show opens Wednesday and runs through Dec. 12.
COPYRIGHT 2004 The Register Guard
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Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Entertainment; Eugene newcomer lands the role of the legendary singer Patsy Cline in the Willamette Rep musical
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 21, 2004
Words:972
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