Mandy Barnett's show at the State Theatre on Friday could have been a lot more fun if only she'd enjoyed herself a bit.
Barnett's career break came when she took the lead role in "Sweet Dreams," a stage production of Patsy Cline's life that played to mostly tourist crowds in Nashville, and since setting out on her own she has done a lot to indicate she's content playing a Cline clone for a living. She worked with Cline's producer, Owen Bradley, on her latest recording sessions, and for her touring band hired a cast of aging session players from the '50s and '60s. The art deco auditorium in Falls Church, located in the very region where Cline, a Winchester native, played dance halls and firehouses four decades ago, seemed the perfect place for Barnett's retro leanings. But she never looked at home.
Barnett performed plenty of old songs tied to other artists, among them Ray Charles's "I Can't Stop Loving You," Porter Wagoner's "Trademark" and the Wagoner-Dolly Parton duet "Put It Off Until Tomorrow" (with bass player Ernie Sykes playing Wagoner), plus the Cline show-stoppers "Crazy" and "Sweet Dreams." And she threw in note-perfect versions of essentially every cut from her new CD, "I've Got a Right to Cry," which, thanks to the work of Bradley (who died while recording the album) and the torchy voice that landed Barnett the stage work, sounds a lot like Cline. The several hundred fans in attendance, who cheered raucously at her introduction, proved there's a market for Barnett's artistic counterfeiting.
Barnett's demeanor, however, was utterly joyless. She never wandered from center stage, never smiled or gave the slightest verbal hint that she was glad to be where she was, doing what she was. And that eventually wore down the crowd.
Though Barnett's career moves don't indicate she wants out of the professional prison the Cline role has sentenced her to, she sure didn't seem happy in her cell on this night.