Julie Johnson is undaunted about taking on one of country music’s most enduring legends. As Patsy Cline, she will sing 21 of the superstar’s greatest hits, including “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Walkin’ After Midnight” and “Sweet Dreams.”
“A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline” opens at The Playhouse@Westport on April 17 and runs through May 6. This loving tribute honors the vocalist who dominated country, blues, pop and gospel charts simultaneously in the 1950s and early 1960s, before she was tragically killed in a plane accident on March 5, 1963. She was 30 years old.
Johnson has played other larger-than-life roles, like Miss Mona in “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” Mrs. Potts in “Beauty and the Beast” and Dolly Levi in “Hello, Dolly!”
And in the pantheon of children’s TV programming, she will forever be remembered as one of Barney the purple dinosaur’s best friends, Baby Bop.
Julie was the voice actor of the bright green triceratops character from 1991-2012 (except 1994) on the hit PBS series “Barney and Friends,” and was part of the “Backyard Gang” song recordings and videos.
Among her career highlights, she was Drama Desk-nominated for Outstanding Actress in a Musical in 1995, for a country western musical comedy called “Das Barbecu,” and a nominee for the Helen Hayes Award for outstanding supporting performer in 2013, as Mama in “Memphis.” She appeared in the tour at the Fox in 2012, and recreated the part of Huey’s colorful mama again this winter at Theatre Under the Stars in Houston.
She also can be seen as a Baptism soloist in the acclaimed 1997 movie “The Apostle,” starring Robert Duvall.
She has recorded two albums, which blend country, blues and roadhouse rhythm and blues: “I’m All Grown Up…So Far” and “More than Half Way There.”
A sixth-generation Texan, she lives near where she grew up, in Whitewright, Texas, which is near Dallas, with her son, Trey.
Her career advice? “If it is truly your passion go for it. Get training. But just do it! Especially when you’re young. Live on Ramen if you need to, but it’s worth the sacrifice. You will get ‘no’ for an answer but don’t let that discourage you. Just keep going. It can happen anywhere!”
Julie took time to answer questions about her life and career journey.
1. Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?
I literally felt it from birth. My mother was a musician and we always went to musicals. There was never anything else on my radar. Maybe archeology but that wasn’t glamorous enough for me. I was born with a talent for singing inherited from my mother, so that’s what I do. I’ve learned though that when you get work, you’re blessed. Especially with a 98 percent unemployment rate in Equity acting.
2. How would your friends describe you?
I would hope they would describe me as the acting Energizer Bunny. I just keep going and I stay busy. I’m constantly doing something. It’s important to go out and make something happen. I also hope they see me as a loyal friend and very funny.
3. How do you like to spend your spare time?
I get to do what I love. My hobby is also my occupation. I have recently discovered rehabbing houses though. It’s fun to freshen up the look of houses. It’s nothing I plan to make a living at but something to have fun with. I don’t have a need for a stress reliever. It’s not necessary when you do what you love. My son also helps. Plus between acting and raising my son, there’s not much time for anything else.
4. What is your current obsession?
DIY and Flipping shows.
5. What would people be surprised to find out about you?
I’m such an open book. Definitely, when I go into auditions I still have all the self-doubt. Also, a big fear of mine is when a show closes, that’s it. It’s over. I’ll never act again. Once I’m out there, though, and in that relationship with the audience, that goes away. It’s great to bring the audiences the experience, like with the Patsy Cline, of bringing icons to life for people.
6. Can you share one of your most defining moments in life?
That would have to be becoming a mother. He is and always will be my best production. It’s been the most rewarding thing I have ever done.
7. Who do you admire most?
My mom and dad. They are both gone now but I have the best memories. They weren’t perfect but they were the best I could hope for. I thought they were strict but after becoming a mother myself, I understood.
8.What is at the top of on your bucket list?
Being around long enough to see my son’s life and happiness. Also going back to do another Broadway show. I’ve lived in Texas by choice and I still stay busy, but I wanted my son’s life to be as close to family and for him to have a small-town upbringing.
9. What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?
I got to play Mama at the Fox in “Memphis.” It was a great experience.
10. What’s next?
“Hairspray” in Dallas and then to Fort Worth for “Hello, Dolly!”