PIGEON FORGE — We predict “My People” is the new “must see” show at Dollywood. And its home, the new 500-seat Dreamsong Theater, adds another comfortable, no-bad-seats performance venue to a park that’s known as much for live entertainment as it is for thrill rides.
The 50-minute “My People,” written by — and sorta starring — Dolly Parton, features 15 performers live on stage, several of whom are Parton’s close kinfolks.
Dreamsong Theater is a completely revamped Imagination Theater in the Dollywood Boulevard area of the park. If that doesn’t ring a bell, you might simply remember it as what was for many years the park’s various simulator rides — Thunder Road, Smoky Mountain Adventure and, during the past several Christmas seasons, Polar Express in 4-D.
Gone are the four-seat ride “cars” that were spread out over several tiers. Gone, too, is the huge screen required for the film portions of those rides.
In their places park guests will find 500 comfortable upholstered seats (with drink holders) in what many movie theaters describe as a “stadium seating” arrangement. We didn’t sit everywhere, but it certainly gives the appearance of a theater where most any seat offers an unobstructed view. And it’s air-conditioned, which will make it a welcome break on hot days this summer.
The screen has been replaced by a deep stage area, with a smaller screen at the back — and sort of above — the rest of the set, which consists of multi-level, deck-like areas that put you in mind of a large group of porches, with rocking chairs and benches here and there.
“My People” features several Parton relatives, including at least two siblings, a couple of neices, and a cousin or two — we lost track — and that is appropriate, given the show’s focus on family.
Specifically, “My People” tells the story of a little country girl from a great big family who wanted to write songs and sing. And with her family’s support, she did, and does, both — with great success.
Dolly officially cut the ribbon on Dreamsong Theater last week and appeared live on stage to introduce the first “My People” show put on in front of an audience.
She said it was like all her kids were putting on a recital. She took a seat in the front row and watched — and to us, she looked proud enough to just pop over each and every performer.
And no wonder. The show offers an entertaining journey down memory lane for Dolly fans — tracing her musical career from early days singing to barnyard animals and with her family in churches to moving to Nashville the day after high school graduation.
“My People” uses a unique “interaction” between the live performers and Dolly herself — she is “present” throughout, providing not only a voiceover, but also appearing in a film on the screen at the back and up over the set.
From there, she tells parts of the story, sings, and has conversations with the live performers.
When the show starts, there’s a “home movie” playing on the screen — a handwritten letter home from a new-to-Nashivlle Dolly, interspersed with vintage pictures of Parton’s parents.
Faith — in God and in each other — is a cornerstone of the Parton family’s story, as told in “My People.”
But they know how to “cut-up” and have fun, too.
The live performers take a few good-natured swipes at Dolly — and at what it’s like to be a known Dolly relative.
Longtime park-goers and Dolly fans will recognize much of the material — there are similarities to the still-popular Heartsong movie that shows at the other end of the park in the Heartsong Theater. The title song for “My People” will remind you of the now closed Sha-Kon-O-Hey!
But there are new songs, new material and new presentations of old favorites — and maybe a couple of obscure-to-many-folks gems. Among the latter, we would include a number in which the live cast tells the tale of the time a young Dolly was convinced she’d had a million-dollar idea for songwriting: pig Latin.
The ensemble, with some help from the screen-version Dolly, then performs the song that resulted. We tried to follow along. But all we can tell you for sure is, translated, it meant “She’s My Best Friend.”
Other especially fun portions of the show have Dolly’s relatives acting out Parton, her parents and her siblings riding in the family truck on their way to sing at church.
There’s no truck on stage, but for a minute you’ll forget that and feel like you’re riding right along with them.
“With the love of your family, all things are possible,” Parton says at one point, and we think when you exit “My People,” you’ll feel like you know the Parton family a little bit better.
To get the latest entertainment schedule for “My People” and other shows in the park, visit www.dollywood.com before your visit and view or print a weekly entertainment schedule.
Dollywood’s Barbeque & Bluegrass Festival begins May 25. Featuring the biggest names in bluegrass music and serving up different types of barbeque — and grilled — items and accompaniments, Barbeque and Bluegrass runs through June 6.
Next up will be Dollywood's Great American Summer festival, June 22 through Aug. 8. The National Southern Gospel & Harvest Celebration is scheduled for Oct. 2 through Nov. 2. And the immensely popular Smoky Mountain Christmas will be held Nov. 9 through Jan. 4, 2014.