HERE YOU COME AGAIN Stars Tricia Paoluccio In a Stunning Tribute to Dolly Parton's Down-Home Spirit

Studio Tenn Caps Off Another Successful Season With A Show Every Tennessean Can Love

By: May. 18, 2023
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HERE YOU COME AGAIN Stars Tricia Paoluccio In a Stunning Tribute to Dolly Parton's Down-Home Spirit
Tricia Paoluccio is Dolly Parton in Here You Come Again.
- photos by Keoni Keur & Company

For years - for decades, really - I have advocated that Music City tourism would benefit from a sit-down production of a country music-themed musical, one that would appeal to a wide range of aficionados and would showcase the musical library of a beloved figure in the pantheon of Nashville music. Finally, Studio Tenn delivers the perfect vehicle for that with the regional premiere of Here You Come Again, featuring songs written by or recorded by Dolly Parton (the Patron Saint of Tennessee aka The Smoky Mountain Songbird).

Opening last night at the historic Franklin Theatre, Here You Come Again is, if nothing else, a whole lot of fun and an endlessly entertaining two hours of theatricality. Written by Bruce Vilanch, Gabriel Barre and Tricia Paoluccio (who stars as Dolly), Here You Come Again isn't necessarily life-changing art - although Paoluccio's pitch-perfect performance should justly establish her as a musical theater star of the first order - it presents a Dolly-centric musical that so effectively evokes her spirit in a sincere and heartfelt way that you simply cannot leave the theater in a much better mood than when you first arrived.

HERE YOU COME AGAIN Stars Tricia Paoluccio In a Stunning Tribute to Dolly Parton's Down-Home Spirit
Tricia Paoluccio and Zachary Sutton

Perhaps more importantly, Here You Come Again represents a brave choice on the part of Studio Tenn to conclude its 2022-23 slate of offerings as it heads into a promising 2023-24 season in a new theater space at The Factory (that season will open with Million Dollar Quarter, the Tony Award-winning musical that would also fit the bill of enticing tourists to spend money on theater tickets). During 2023, as Tennessee politicians have delved into ever more controversial and divisive topics, Studio Tenn's decision to present a show focusing on a gay man and his devotion to Dolly Parton - in Williamson County, Tennessee, no less, which isn't exactly a hotbed of liberalism - is nothing less than courageous and should be applauded.

Set in 2020 - during the initial phase of the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent shelter-in-place edicts and self-isolation - Here You Come Again focuses on its hero, Kevin, an aspiring comic who left his job and lover in New York to return to his Texas hometown, where he now lives in the attic of his parents' home. Alone and somewhat bereft (he deals with his parents during quick exchanges via a jerry-rigged dumbwaiter and comes and goes from his new abode via a ladder outside the only window), stifled both creatively and personally, Kevin (played with warmth and authenticity by Zachary Sutton, who holds in own during his musical moments) confesses his devotion to Dolly while introducing us to the situation he now finds himself in and fills us in on elements of his past, while painting a bleak picture of what lies ahead.

HERE YOU COME AGAIN Stars Tricia Paoluccio In a Stunning Tribute to Dolly Parton's Down-Home Spirit With a sharply written script - by Vilanch, director Barre and the show's star Ms. Paoluccio - audience members are given easy access to the story, which allows them to become involved in the onstage antics that are sure to come when Dolly Parton emerges from a big poster on the back wall to intervene in Kevin's journey through the isolation of a worldwide pandemic.

Kevin is funny and intelligent (although his failed relationship with an investment banker named Jordan somewhat stretches the limits of credulity) and, like the open book he is, he shares all with Dolly, whose patented optimism and downhome wisdom are almost guaranteed to help him regain his equilibrium - no matter how downbeat and down-right pessimistic he might be.

No spoilers here: We won't explain how Dolly happens to appear in an attic in smalltown Texas (we've no doubt the real-life Dolly has special powers to change the lives of millions - ask anyone from Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg and they will attest to that) to offer sage advice, deliciously clever quips and amiable truisms, all while looking like a million bucks and delivering musical performances that sounds just like the records Kevin has loved and curated since he was a teenager.

Sutton's charm and comic timing proved him to be the perfect foil for Tricia Paoluccio's Dolly - you will be amazed just how much she sounds like DP, whether she's telling a story about songwriting, her mama's biscuits or some tragic tale from one of her songs. But when she sings, she elevates the musical, taking audiences to a mesmerizing place where the Dolly of their dreams resides. When Paoluccio sings, close your eyes and let her extraordinary voice work its considerable magic: you'll believe you're in the presence of the queen herself.

HERE YOU COME AGAIN Stars Tricia Paoluccio In a Stunning Tribute to Dolly Parton's Down-Home Spirit When you open your eyes, you will be more convinced that Dolly has joined you - Brian Strumwasser has designed make-up that ensures Paoluccio is convincingly Dolly's doppelganger, while Bobby Pearce's costumes look as if they came straight from her closet (although we doubt DP would have paired those sparkly purple pumps with her opening costume). Combine those designs with Paoluccio's impressive talents and she doesn't so much as play a character as she becomes Dolly Parton.

"Here You Come Again" is bouncy and joyful, "Hush-A-Bye Hard Times" is a loving tribute to Stephen Foster, "Two Doors Down" is a down-home good time and "9 to 5" is as rousing a workday anthem as ever. And if I could hear Tricia Paoluccio sing "Jolene" and "I Will Always Love You" on a continuous loop - well, any pandemic doldrums could be annihilated.

If there is any comparison to be made, it's that Paoluccio plays Dolly with the same authenticity and genuine spirit that Mandy Barnett plays Patsy Cline is Always, Patsy Cline. Credit goes to Paoluccio for daring to play someone so beloved as Dolly, in her home state and not that far from her Nashville home, with such unfettered delight and boldly etched artistry.

The detailed recreation of Kevin's attic home, by scenic designer Anna Louizos, is astounding, while Allyssandra Docherty's lighting design is its perfect accompaniment. Kudos to Mark Valenzuela for his superb sound design that ensures Dolly/Tricia sounds as good as she looks.

Here You Come Again. By Bruce Vilanch, Gabriel Barre and Tricia Paoluccio. Directed and choreographed by Gabriel Barre. Associate director and associate choreographer Brad Willcuts. Stage managed by Abigail Zaccari. Technical director Will Butler. Presented by Studio Tenn at The Franklin Theatre, downtown Franklin. Through May 28. For further details, go to Running time: 2 hours (with one 15-minute intermission).


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