It’s been almost a decade since Mandy Barnett last walked in Patsy Cline’s shoes, and the singer is more than ready to slide back into the footwear, and the role, that helped make her a star.

The current run of “Always … Patsy Cline” at the Ryman Auditorium marks Barnett’s fifth turn as the legendary singer; a role she originated in 1994. While revisiting the challenging role wasn’t on her schedule, when several key pieces fell into place, she couldn’t say no.

“The Ryman’s people approached me to do it, and when they brought it to my attention I wasn’t sure,” Barnett said. “Then I found out that Tere [Myers, who plays devoted fan Louise Seger] and Ted [Swindley, who created the show and directed the original production] wanted to come back, even some of the original band [wanted to come back], then the idea became more appealing and I decided to do it.”

Once Barnett got into rehearsals the feeling of homecoming became even more intense. The actress' visible level of comfort adds a tangeable richness to the show this time around.

“It’s familiar territory, but it’s also like starting over,” Barnett said. “I’ve been away from it for so long, and we’ve made a few changes, so it’s slightly different.”

As is always the case when tackling material that involves a legend, there’s careful attention to detail. For Barnett, who counts Cline as one of her vocal idols along with Linda Ronstadt and Connie Francis, keeping the memory alive is as much a part of the show as the songs and the storyline.

“You can’t go and see [Cline] in concert, so this is kind of an opportunity to present that illusion, to make it seem like she’s there,” she said. “The show makes people feel like they get to know her a little bit. She’s been gone for so long, and she died so tragically, that she’s become elusive.”

Cline’s husband and children have backed the show in all its incarnations, and this time is no different.

“They’re really excited, and are on board all the way,” Barnett said. “They like that this lets people see her again.”


The non-Patsy years have been busy ones for Barnett, who has had a couple of record deals and done some soul searching about her career and its direction as her various projects have played out. Coming back to this show allows her to both revisit her past and get energized for her future, she says, so this opportunity has really come at the perfect time.

“I needed to try some different things and grow a little bit, and that’s put me in a place right now where I’m really open,” she said. “Id like to make another country record, but you can waste a lot of time in a record deal and not put a record out. I’ve had that happen, so I’m very cautious … I just want to make sure that whatever it is, it’s the right thing and I’m not in a situation where someone really doesn’t know what to do with me.”

So for now, it’s back to Walking After Midnight, Sweet Dreams and so on. And even though she’s done the role on and off for 15 years, Barnett’s hardly in danger of being too old for the part. She was 18 the first time around, 13 years younger than Cline was at her death in 1963.

“I’m fine vocally; that hasn’t changed,” Barnett said. “It’s a taxing show, but I can handle anything for six weeks. I’m not too old for it, but when my register drops I’ll just move over and play Louise.”
 

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This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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