Mandy Barnett Plays Patsy Cline One Last Time

Powerhouse vocalist reprises role as famed country chanteuse in drama at Ryman Auditorium.

NASHVILLE — One of the more electrifying shows ever to play

the Ryman Auditorium here was a quirky little 1994 two-woman

presentation titled "Always ... Patsy Cline."

The show made an immediate star of then-18-year-old country-music

hopeful Mandy Barnett, who had begun a sporadic career early on. She recorded a gospel album at age 9, in her hometown of Crossville, Tenn.; did summer theater at age 10 at Dolly Parton's Dollywood amusement park in East Tennessee; and first appeared on the Grand Ole Opry at age 12. The stage may have been set then, when she drew an ovation for her rendition of country superstar Patsy Cline's "Crazy" (RealAudio excerpt).

Though she signed with a Nashville label at age 13, producer and

executive changes thwarted her progress; the Cline show was her


Now 24 years old and focusing on her solo career, Barnett is doing one

last run as Cline, in a reprise of "Always ...," which opened Thursday

(June 15) at the Ryman and runs nightly through Aug. 12.

"This is my last time as Patsy," said Barnett during a break from

rehearsals onstage at the Ryman. "I love doing her, but it's time to get on with my career."

House Of Spirits

She said there are times when she can feel onstage the spirit of Cline,

who rose to stardom in this building and trod these very boards during

her Grand Ole Opry appearances, when the Opry was still at the Ryman.

Cline's short but meteoric career ran from her first Billboard #1 hit, 1961's "I Fall to Pieces," to her death in a plane crash in 1963.

Though Barnett has done this show twice before, both times receiving

unanimously ecstatic reviews, she says it feels different this time

around. For one thing, the Cline closing song, "Always" (


excerpt), has finally been added to the show; it was missing

before because of copyright difficulties. "I've also got real Patsy

costumes now," Barnett said.

Show director David Grapes said that authentic Cline costumes were

essential for this production. "That makes Mandy more comfortable in the role," he said. "She also sounds better in the role ... because she's now actually at the same age as when Patsy began recording. Your voice changes from when you're 18 to when you're 24 years old. She sounds richer and deeper and more emotional now. And more complex. You don't often get the opportunity to do a part again and improve on it."

Tere Myers portrays the character of Louise Seger, a devoted Cline fan,

whose chance meeting with the late Opry star provides the storyline for

the production. "I really feel eerie, sometimes, here in the Ryman,"

Myers said, "because there's a real feeling of Patsy here. Whatever

image you have of Patsy when you come into the building, it's just more

genuine by the time you leave."

Without giving the plot away, the show's premise is a simple one: In the main, it's a monologue by the avid Cline fan — based on real

letters that Cline wrote to her — interspersed with musical numbers by Cline. One musical number added to this production is the song "Stupid Cupid."

"She didn't record that [song], but she did it on a radio show," Barnett said.

Some Angels Named Bradley

After Barnett first did the show, Cline's original producer, Owen

Bradley — who literally, in the 1950s, built the Decca Records

operation that became MCA Nashville, and who built the first recording

studio on Music Row — took Barnett under his wing and was producing a solo album for her as of his death, in 1998. Bradley's brother, famed Nashville session guitarist Harold Bradley, finished the production and continues to play guitar for Barnett's shows.

That Barnett album, on Sire Records, contained such Cline-influenced

performances as the title cut, "I've Got a Right to Cry" (

HREF="">RealAudio excerpt).

After this Ryman run ends, Barnett said, she will go into the studio for a new album on Sire, which will be her third (she also did a 1996 solo disc). "Sire went through a merger, and I'm one of the few survivors," she said. "I'm staying with [Sire President] Seymour Stein. There's almost no song people left in music. They're all business-oriented and concerned just with numbers, while Seymour's a hopeless romantic. He loves great songs, whether they're new or old, so I'm sticking with him."