Patsy Cline Look-Alike Animates Singer's Story

EIGHTEEN-year-old Mandy Barnett was born more than a decade after Patsy Cline was killed in a plane crash and one year after the Ryman Auditorium closed. Now she is bringing back to life both the legendary singer and the long-dark Ryman stage.

Barnett is the star of the production, ``Always ... Patsy Cline,'' playing at the Ryman through October. Barnett's looks and voice are uncannily similar to the real Cline, who performed at the Ryman back in 1961.

Despite her youth, Barnett has been working on being a Cline clone for years. At age 10, she won a talent contest singing a Cline song, and just two years later she sang ``Crazy'' during an appearance at the Grand Ole Opry.

All that led to the starring role in the two-woman musical, requiring Barnett to sing ``Crazy'' and 20 other Cline songs three nights a week.

The role propelled Barnett into sudden fame. When the show opened in June, people immediately started asking if the actresses were going to sign autographs, recalls Steve Buchanan, general manager of the Ryman. So they now come out following every performance and sign autographs for about 100 waiting fans.

The show tells the story of Cline's friendship with real-life fan Louise Seger, ably performed by actress Tere Myers. Myers handles most of the speaking parts and keeps the story moving in an entertaining fashion between Barnett's enthralling musical numbers.

The production is written and directed by Ted Swindley and premiered in Houston in 1988. Seger was, in fact, a young divorcee living in Houston in 1957 when she heard Cline sing on the ``Arthur Godfrey Show.''

Seger was captivated by Cline's voice. When the singer came to Houston for a performance in 1961, Seger managed to befriend her, and they stayed in touch until Cline's death in 1963. The title of the play is taken from the way Cline signed all her letters to Seger: ``Love always, Patsy Cline.''

* Tickets are $16 and $14 for performances Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights through Oct. 2

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