Ute Lemper has been so successful singing Kurt Weill songs that she has all but eclipsed their original interpreter, Lotte Lenya. At the other end of the scale, there are dozens of Elvis and Marilyn impersonators touring the country who will remain forever in the shadow of their respective hero/heroine. The critics' greatest praise for Elaine Paige in the role of Edith Piaf was 'Paige is Piaf', and for an actress, that's a compliment. But singer Sandy Kelly, who is taking on the role of Patsy Cline in the musical of her life (right), wants to keep her distance.

'I'm not and never have been a clone,' says the Irish singer adamantly. 'But it's true that I owe a lot of my success to Patsy Cline'. In 1989, by her own admission, her career was in the doldrums. When she was asked to record the Cline song 'Crazy', she reluctantly agreed because there was nothing else on the horizon. It became the biggest selling record of 1989 in Ireland. One day the phone rang and a voice said, 'Hello, Sandy? This is Johnny Cash'. 'Oh yes, sure,' replied Kelly, 'and I'm Dolly Parton'. But Johnny Cash had heard her recording and wanted to work with her.

Five years before, when working in America, she had found herself with Harold Bradley, Cline's guitarist, and her producer Owen Bradley. On the heels of the success of 'Crazy', she decided to do a one-woman tour of Cline's songs. 'When I needed to research her life I realised I was already surrounded by all the people I needed to talk to. It's a strange feeling when you're sitting there in the living room with the grandchildren Patsy never knew.'

The irony is that Patsy Cline, she of the heart-breakingly melancholy voice, was a happy, resilient, self-confident adult. 'It took her so long to become recognised - she had to endure so many bad songs, false promises, bad contracts. It took her 15 years to achieve, then she enjoyed it for three years before she was killed in a plane crash. I've lived through so much of that myself, it helps me to perform every night.'

'Patsy Cline, A Musical Tribute' previews at the Whitehall Theatre from Friday, opens 20 Jul (071-369 1735)

(Photograph omitted)