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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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