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Have a jolly dolly Christmas

November 25th, 2013 11:28 am by J. H. Osborne

Have a jolly dolly Christmas

“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”

 — Charles Dickens,

 A Christmas Carol

PIGEON FORGE — There’s a new holiday experience for you and yours this year at Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas festival, which continues through Jan.4.

And it is well worth the trip and the navigation of what are likely to be large crowds when you get there.

It is “Dollywood’s A Christmas Carol,” a full-fledged (albeit less than one-hour) Broadway-worthy musical production of the Charles Dickens classic, with music by Dolly Parton.

And, oh by the way, it stars Dolly Parton.

Parton’s appearance in the show — interacting with the rest of the 16-member cast for each performance as the Ghost of Christmas Past — is thanks to a Dollywood first: cutting-edge hologram technology.

This special twist on Dickens’ classic story marks the first time holograms have been featured in this family-favorite tale, according to park officials.

Parton’s Ghost of Christmas Past, Jacob Marley, the Ghost of Christmases Present and the Ghost of Christmas Future are life-sized holograms, marking the first time four actors appear via the cutting-edge technology in the same theatrical production.

“When they told me they were going to make a hologram out of me, I thought they were crazy,” Parton said in a news release. “But when I saw how real it looked on stage, I couldn’t believe it. I’m not sure this world can handle two Dolly Partons, but I’m excited folks will be able to see ‘the other Dolly,’ reminding families that it’s not what you have but who you have, just like ole Scrooge figures out in the end.” 

The set, a mix of indoor and outdoor Victorian-era London, is wonderful, giving the audience glimpses inside a modest home (the Cratchits’), a more upper-crust home (Scrooge’s nephew), and, of course, the stingy Scrooge’s dark, dank and cold bedchamber.

The latter is presented on the double-tiered center stage, which also takes Scrooge back to his childhood, young romance — and future plot in the local cemetery.

“Dollywood’s A Christmas Carol” features eight new songs written by Parton especially for the 45-minute musical of redemption and hope. Because the story is set in the U.K., Parton gave the music a classic British feeling by infusing each song with classic Scots-Irish rhythms as well as musical and lyrical structures borrowed from traditional English folk songs.

The Celtic feel is, of course, a natural tie-in for Parton and the musical heritage of the Great Smoky Mountains area.

The show also features a 16-member cast, fully orchestrated musical tracks and period costuming.

In addition to the holograms, “Dollywood’s A Christmas Carol” offers some pretty impressive special effects.

And while some may include the use of holograms, Dollywood Entertainment Director Paul Couch said care was taken to not pigeonhole their use in this production.

“It is typical for productions of ‘A Christmas Carol’ to feature special effects,” Couch said. “We didn’t want the holograms to be just a special effect. These are actors, playing important roles, and we wanted to recognize and honor that and use the holograms to help tell the story. We want guests to see the performance, not the special effect.”

We attended “Dollywood’s A Christmas Carol” last week in a group of 10, ranging in age from nearly 7 to just past 80.

And, while the youngest was a little put off by the ghosts of Marley and Christmas Future, everyone enjoyed the show immensely.

We were sorry when it was over and would like to see it again.

“We did try to balance the show to make it appealing and enjoyable to the whole family,” Couch said. “But it is a show with ghosts. But at least one of those ghosts is Dolly Parton.”

The interaction between live performers and Parton and the other actors who appear as holograms was fantastic in the performance we saw. The timing of dialogue, gestures and stage-sharing was dead-on.

While “Dollywood’s A Christmas Carol” is an adaptation of a classic, it stays true to the time and place of the original — London, England in the 1800s.

There are only a couple of wink-and-nods to Parton’s place and time: Scrooge asks, “What is that strange accent with which you speak”” and The Ghost of Christmas Past replies, “You’ve obviously never been to South London.” And each time Parton’s character appears, a whirlwind of brightly animated butterflies swirls about for a bit.

If you want to see “Dollywood’s A Christmas Carol,” be prepared to stand in line. On the day we visited — a warm-weather Saturday — the park was very crowded, and lines for each performance began forming an hour or more ahead of curtain time. At one point in late afternoon, we wondered why the line was so long to get in Miss Lillian’s Chicken House at the mouth to Craftsman’s Valley.

We were a little shocked to realize it was actually the end of the line (with folks still joining) for the next performance of “Dollywood’s A Christmas Carol,” which is showing at DP’s Celebrity Theater at the upper end of Showstreet.

Couch said audience feedback for the show has been tremendous.

Speaking of Miss Lillian’s Chicken House, that’s where we ate dinner — and boy, were we glad.

In the past, Aunt Granny’s has been our favorite “must do” holiday dinner stop. We have to say, though, Miss Lillian is giving Aunt G a run for her money.

The buffet costs a little less and includes very similar food — and you get live entertainment from Miss Lillian herself.

We will admit, we cringe at the thought of being the object of Miss Lillian’s attentions, but we relish when she pecks on (pun intended) someone who doesn’t mind, or better yet enjoys becoming part of the show.

During our recent visit with Miss Lillian, she singled out a member of a college-age wrestling team at an already boisterous table. And he was more than game to put on the makeshift chicken suit she offered and follow her just outside the door to perform “the chicken dance” while she serenaded him and his buddies photographed, filmed, shared and posted the incident.

In keeping with the season (you will never hear a “bah, humbug” from these chicken lips), Miss Lillian’s repertoire the day we pulled up to the table included heartfelt versions of “Santa Chicken is Coming to Town,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Rooster” and “Jingle Chick.” 

For more information, including ticket prices and park hours, visit www.dollywood.com.


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