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RayLynn Theater closes

Cowboy Church still open, plans shows

By Wayne Bryan

This article was published October 9, 2011 at 3:08 a.m.

— The RayLynn Theater, a home for family entertainment, has closed, ending a dream for an entertainer and promoter who invested in the Central Avenue venue, only to see it hit by hard economic times.

“It’s not just our story; it’s the story of a lot of people right now - a lot of businesses, not just downtown, but all over,” said Tom Wilkins, the founder and producer for the RayLynn, after the name of the theater was removed on Sept. 21. “This is the worst I’ve seen in my lifetime.”

Wilkins did not own the theater but leased it, he said.

Yet while the name is gone, the theater still opens its doors every Sunday morning and will be seeing other performances in the weeks ahead.

The stage of the theater is home for the Cowboy Church of Hot Springs. Harvey Perdue, pastor of the church, said he plans to continue services there and will offer country-music shows with free admission.

“We’ll be there next Sunday and the next Sunday,” Perdue said. “Cowboy Church will remain here.”

The church blends a church service with a county-music show. Perdue, ordained by the International Pentecostal Holiness Church, is also a country-music singer,songwriter and guitarist. He has conducted a combination interdenominational service and country-gospel show since 2002.

“It is not like anything you have ever seen,” Perdue said. “The format is unlike other churches, with a scripted show and then preaching the word.”

Perdue’s “show” is affiliated with Christian Cowboy International in Nashville, Tenn., made up of congregations active in two kinds of services. One is equestrian-based, held around, and sometimes on, horses. These services, like those in a church in Pine Bluff, have used elements of rodeo to attract an audience and provide opportunities for salvation, Perdue said.

The other kind is the show church. Perdue’s church has a house band and performs what he calls family-country and country-gospel music.

Perdue said he has a sublease on the theater. He said he would like to own the theater, but it is not for sale.

“We are talking with the owner and other parties, and things can change every day,” Perdue said. “Either way it goes, we’ll be here with the church.”

Perdue said he now has an opportunity to promote several country-music shows at the theater that might become a season of events.

“On Oct. 14, we will have Claude Gray’s Family County Music Show at the theater,” Perdue said. “His most famous song was “I’ll have a Cup of Coffee (Then I’ll Go).”

The following week, Perdue will hold what he called a Branson-style Christian country show.

“It stars the Pretty Miss Norma Jean, a member of the Grand Old Opry in Nashville for many years,” he said.

Another show for Oct. 28 is being planned, as are shows in November, Perdue said.

The shows will be free, Perdue said.

“We’ll pass the hat, and that is that,” he said.

Cowboy Church has not been the only success at the former RayLynn Theater this year.

Longtime performers Jerry Van Dyke of TV’s Coach fame and Tommy Smothers, half of the music and comedy team The Smothers Brothers, presented The Sunshine Boys for seven days in late May at the RayLynn Theater.

In the Neil Simon comedy, a former vaudevillian duo, who grew to hate each other over their more than 40 years together, are invited to reunite for an on-screen performance.

Van Dyke and Smothers - both in their 70s - had never performed together, but like the characters in the play, one wants to retire while the other wants to continue working.

Van Dyke, of Glen Rose, debuted the show in October 2010 at the RayLynn Theater, with Jack Iafrate of Hot Springs Village playing alongside him.

“There are a lot of places that [Jerry] could perform this, but this is close to where he lives, and he loves Hot Springs,” said Wilkins, a longtime friend of Van Dyke’s.

Wilkins said that with the success of the October run, Van Dyke brought the show back to Hot Springs in May with Smothers, with plans of perhaps taking it to Broadway.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes, Pages 139 on 10/09/2011

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