Ms. Parton, Meet Dolly

Dolly Parton. At the Chumash Casino, Thursday, February 15.

Reviewed by Derek Svennungsen

Dolly_Parton.jpgDolly Parton’s show at the Chumash Casino was the most paradoxical performance I have ever seen. That said, her show was fantastic, a joyous piece of entertainment at once stagy and soulful, scripted and spontaneous. This tension ran throughout the show and was openly acknowledged by the singer herself. At some points, she was cornball Dolly, huge boobs and sequined miniskirt, contrived hand gestures and big musical numbers. At others, she was down-home Ms. Parton, an extraordinary singer whose affecting and powerful voice is beyond compare and whose musical prowess—she skillfully played at least six instruments—transcends the Vegas schmaltz.

This complexity emerged from the get-go, as the show began with warm blue lights and amplified cricket noises, transporting us all to a Tennessee field at dusk. Her 11-piece band opened with a short bluegrassy instrumental. And then there she came, rising up a pole (yes, a pole) from under the stage, with a smile to light the world and hair to match, five-inch heels, and, of course, those boobs. (Dolly herself made numerous jokes about her anatomy, the best being: “The reason I’m so short is I got all bunched up at the top!”)

Soon after the opening, she dove into “Jolene,” which is a gorgeous song, sentimentally potent even though radio has almost killed it. For the next six songs we were in the tender presence of Ms. Parton, of greatness, and of a voice that can do anything and everything.

Between each and every song, Parton was a comedienne nonpareil, offering jokes and stories that prepped us for the songs. Sure, she’s told these stories and jokes a thousand times, but we the audience felt like she was talking just to us, and the way she poked fun at herself made us all the more willing to believe in the power of her best songs. There was no feeling of being put on, just our own luckiness at spending a couple of hours in her radiant presence.

Dolly ended the show with five vapid, slick numbers, including an embarrassing rendition of “Islands in the Stream.” But I was okay with it because, thanks to Ms. Parton, Dolly can do whatever she wants.

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