Here You Come Again—The New Dolly Parton Musical

Bruce Vilanch and Gabriel Barre, adapted for the UK by Jonathan Harvey
Simon Friend Entertainment and Leeds Playhouse
Theatre Royal Newcastle-Upon -Tyne

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Cast of Here You Come Again
Cast number
Tricia Paoluccio as Dolly Parton
Steven Webb as Kevin
Paoluccio as Parton Webb as Kevin
Webb as Kevin

The year is 2020, lockdown during the pandemic. The open set is Kevin Rutter’s (Steven Webb) attic bedroom in his parent’s house; it is also a shrine to Dolly Parton, his idol.

Action begins with several large packets of toilet rolls being thrown through the window. He has to climb a ladder to avoid contact with his parents for fear of infection. All alone, he dwells on the state of his life: “when COVID hit, it was like my life stopped. Like when Eastenders finished”. Yes, there is humour as well as pathos, sadness and joy in this show.

No job, no place of his own and no partner, he puts a Parton record on to lift his spirits. Suddenly, Parton (Tricia Paoluccio) materialises and blows his mind. He cannot believe it, but, as she says, she is always there to help people in need and he definitely needs help.

There must be a touch of déjà vu with the part Webb plays. He grew up with country and western music, his father being an avid fan. Twenty years ago, he went through a similar scenario as Kevin. At a low point in life separating from his partner, he went to see Dolly Parton live at Hammersmith and it changed his life. He feels in heaven getting the opportunity to perform and surround himself with Parton’s music nearly every night.

Parton is a lifelong inspiration to Paoluccio, who has always been able to sing and speak like her. As Webb, she loved Parton and played all her albums. She had the idea for years of what it would be like if Parton helped one of her fans through a tough time. This idea developed during COVID and started to be written after gaining a grant. Both actors play their parts superbly. Very rarely does an audience applaud an actor's statement in approval and admiration. Webb’s portrayal was so sincere, the audience were with him for every word; his body is also so fluid, his movement and dancing (Lizzzi Gee choreographer) is jaw-droppingly good.

They are well supported by two actors, Aidan Cutler and Charlotte Elisabeth Yorke, playing several parts and providing backing vocals; also Jordan Li-Smith on keyboard, Alex Akira Crawford on guitar, Kevin Oliver Jones on bass and Ben Scott on drums, completing the cast. They inhabit a well designed, two-tier set (Paul Wills), enhanced with a good lighting design (Tim Deiling).

From the first entrance, the audience are spoken to and involved, a part of the show. The producers wish "that every person in the audience feels like they have had a one-on-one evening with her (Parton)”, and, judging by the Empire's audience, they succeeded. The writers also wish the audience to leave the theatre inspired, hopeful and joyful, an aim which they seem to have achieved, having the full theatre up, singing and dancing on the spot by the end of the show.

Parton is a legend in her own lifetime, truly a rags-to-riches story. Born into a one-bedroomed cabin, the fourth child of twelve, life was not easy, but that did not deter Parton. Singer, songwriter—she has written over 3,000—actor and author. A career spanning over 50 years, she has sold over 100 million records, has countless nominations and awards and one of the best music artists worldwide of all time; her 49th solo studio album was just released last November—no wonder she inspires people.

This show does have heartbreaking moments of sadness, but it also contains a real of feeling of hope. Parton says, “we are all responsible for our own happiness,” and that you have to have faith in yourself. That is not a bad message to take away from a night at the theatre. Here You Come Again is a really well-produced, balanced show and a cracking good night out.

Reviewer: Anna Ambelez

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