In UnCovered: The Music of Dolly Parton, The Musical Stage Company takes on the career of the legendarily flashy country star credited with everything from increasing literacy rates in Tennessee children to funding the development of the Moderna COVID vaccine. The entertainment force of nature is given a rollicking and heartfelt homage here, staged by Fiona Sauder, with rearranged songs strung together around thematically-relevant Parton quips read off postcards.
Ironically, UnCovered is the first show I’ve seen since COVID under the cover of an indoor theatre, the magnificent Koerner Hall. The sheer size of the interior contrasts sharply with the maximum of 175 people in the audience. Luckily, the six-person cast is up to the challenge of filling the space with sound, and the audience is so excited to be there that it loses some of that Toronto reserve and has a small dance party. Though I’m only a casual fan of Ms. Parton, I can say that this did not hinder my enjoyment of the evening.
The arrangements (music supervision by Reza Jacobs with music direction by Adam Sakiyama) are lively and fun; nothing completely revolutionary, but they’re filled with beautiful harmonies and the occasionally gender-bent tune. I was a fan of the genuinely spooky atmosphere in the presentation of “Jolene,” featuring an eerie, otherworldly intro that sounds more like rubbed wineglasses than guitar, and an emphasis on dramatic key changes. Jully Black breathes angsty life into it, a powerhouse of sound and emotion. She also gets the showstopper “I Will Always Love You,” doing the original more than justice.
Everyone gets a chance in the spotlight, including the terrific backing band; in particular, Miranda Mulholland’s violin is achingly beautiful. Sara Farb’s “Coat of Many Colors” is winsome, Beau Dixon turns “Two Doors Down” into a real party, and Andrew Penner takes on much of the comic relief with his scruffy, spirited delivery.
Two bookended solos about the nature of love, “Here You Come Again,” and “Here I Am,” are major highlights. The first, a sweetly simple song about the effect love can have on a person, marries Hailey Gillis’ gorgeous voice with equally liquid violin. The latter, a rallying cry about the power of freely offered, steadfast love, is a study in committed performance by Kelly Holiff that builds to a cathartic fever pitch.
The script largely lets Parton speak for herself, with the occasional adoring comment or aside. It’s not sainthood, nor critically complex, just warm affection.
Dolly Parton supposedly once said, “When I wake up, I expect things to be good. If they’re not, then I try to set about trying to make them as good as I can, ‘cause I know I’m going to have to live that day anyway.” In highlighting these words, the show makes its running theme clear: let’s make the best of a tough situation, and find joy and revelry in music, love, and each other. Though I feel pretty privileged to be able to recover with this series of covers in a ritzy concert hall, it’s hard to feel anything but buoyant with this much passion and talent radiating from the stage.
The 70-minute show took place live for three days, but was filmed in performance and will have a second life in online screenings starting in November. If you missed it, you still have time to brighten your day.
- UnCovered: The Music of Dolly Parton played at Koerner Hall (273 Bloor St. W) from September 30 – October 1, 2021.
- A filmed version of the show will screen from November 24 -December 11, 2021.
- Virtual shows run Wednesday – Saturday at 8:00 PM, with a 2:00 PM matinee on Saturday, December 4.
- Tickets to the virtual show are $29-35 can be purchased online. A pre-show party add-on for group tickets can be purchased for $125.
Photo of Kelly Holiff, Jully Black, and Hailey Gillis in UnCovered by Dahlia Katz