Packed with the iconic songs Jolene, 9 to 5, Islands in the Stream, I Will Always Love You, Here You Come Again and more, this lively and touching new musical makes its North East debut at Newcastle Theatre Royal (Tue 18 – Sat 22 Jun 2024) and tells the story of a diehard fan whose imagined version of international icon Dolly Parton gets him through trying times. We caught up with the shows’ writer, Tricia Paoluccio, who also stars as Dolly Parton, to find out how she has been preparing for her role…

What was the original inspiration for the show?

I’ve always loved Dolly and been able to sing like her. It was my dream to someday be able to use this ability in a theatrical way and thought the best way to do it, was to have it be another person’s journey. What developed was a story about an uber-fan’s fantasy friendship with Dolly. I wanted to show Dolly in action, to see her helping another person, versus it being a bio musical about her life.

How was working with Jonathan Harvey, who has collaborated with you on the UK version of the play’s script?

He is so funny. He’s a great writer, with fine-tuned taste, and the main thing he’s contributed is helping us set it in England because we had to change all of our cultural references. He’s also helped us to understand how things will hit a British audience because British audiences are different than American audiences and your experience during 2020 was a little different than ours.

How did you set about ‘becoming’ Dolly for the show?

I like to say that I began rehearsing for this role when I was five years old, when I first heard Here You Come Again on the radio. I remember that moment vividly. I begged for the record and I memorised every song on it. I’ve always been able to tune my vocal cords to hit her vibrato and to find that cry in her voice and the musicality of her styling. When it came time to doing our show, though, I did not have her speaking voice down. I worked with a very celebrated dialect coach named Erik Singer, who helped Austin Butler prepare to play Elvis. We worked together on cracking her speaking voice and that took a bit more effort. I’ve watched tons of Dolly videos and early interviews to absorb how she does and says things, her mannerisms and everything. I just love to study her.

How important to you is it not to simply do a Dolly Parton impersonation?

Very important. There are wonderful tribute artists out there doing great things to spread the love of Dolly. But in terms of a play or a musical, I don’t think that would be a very satisfying evening in the theatre. I do not think about impersonating her. I’m only thinking about what my objective is in the story and I trust that Dolly’s presence is strong enough in me to let it go.

What did you feel was important to get right about her as a person as well as a singer?

Dolly is a very practical person. She’s no-nonsense and wise. I wanted to make sure that she stayed grounded and real. While we have very performative moments to the audience, I wanted to show her in a very truthful and down-to-earth way. I also wanted to show Dolly doing very humble things. I envisioned her as the kind of friend who if you’re going through a hard time would help clean up your kitchen and eat a meal with you. She’s not so rich and famous that she’s above doing those little things.

With so many songs to choose from, how did you and the team decide what to include?

I love the late-70s/early 80s-Dolly, so I came up with a kind of hit list. But I have to give credit to our lawyer Thomas Distler, who’s responsible for making this all happen because he knew Dolly Parton’s lawyer and got the material to her. That’s how we got permission to be able to do the show and the rights to all her music.

Do you have a favourite song to perform in the show?

It’s like picking a favourite child and I love them all for different reasons. But I think my favourite one to perform is Me And Little Andy. It’s just so sad and strange, where Dolly does a little girl voice and it takes this painfully tragic turn. I love performing it and I love the reaction it gets from the audience. If you don’t know the song already don’t listen to it before you come to see the show! Let yourself be surprised because I want you to have the same reaction that Kevin does.

How would you describe your relationship with Dolly’s music?

As a child I spent hours and hours walking around our almond orchard in Modesto, California singing her songs, imagining how life might be as a grown up. Singing along to her made me want to become an actress, because I loved how she told stories and how emotional her songs could be. I can’t express enough how deeply her artistry has influenced my entire life – a love of beauty and a love of storytelling, culminating in what I consider the greatest achievement of my career – creating and being in this show. It’s the honour of a lifetime.

Why do you think Dolly Parton is so beloved?

She grew up very poor, made it big and has handled herself with dignity and grace her whole career. Watching interviews with her from the 70s, they’re just crazy. She gets asked the most insulting and sexist questions and she never takes offence. But she never backs down either. She sticks up for herself with great humility and humour. What I also admire is how she uses her wealth and influence to donate to and bring attention to worthy causes, and she has managed to stay true to herself and her beliefs without ever taking sides.

If you got to meet her, what’s the one thing you’d want to ask her?

I met her sister Rachel, who saw our show in Tennessee, but unfortunately Dolly was away shooting music videos for her rock album so she wasn’t able to come along herself. I don’t know what I’d do if I ever met her. I’d die! I would ask her first ‘Can I borrow some of your wigs for our show?’ But if I was having a real heart-to-heart with Dolly I’d want to know ‘How have you been able to navigate your life and career the way that you have?’ In my opinion, she really has never had a misstep.

What can audiences expect when they come to see the show?

I think every audience member, no matter who they are, will find something very relatable in the character of Kevin (brilliantly portrayed by Stevie Webb). And I think they’ll find the show to be

really funny, with lots of laughs, but they’ll also be surprised by how deep and emotional it is. It’s a play with music, with the side benefit of it also sometimes feeling like a Dolly Parton concert.

Here You Come Again plays Newcastle Theatre Royal Tue 18 – Sat 22 Jun 2024. Tickets can be purchased at or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.

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