Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Here You Come Again: How Dolly Saved My Life in 12 Easy Songs
The play opens as Kevin (Matthew Risch) bemoans his existence within the extremely rough-hewn attic of his childhood home in Longview, Texas. It's May 2020 and COVID is both a threat and reality. Hence, at the beginning of this show there's mention of quarantine, hand-washing, social distancing, and so forth. Kevin has long idolized Dolly Parton and has affixed photos and a large poster of her to the walls of his room. He's especially blue since his boyfriend Jordan has just declared that their relationship is officially over.
All of a sudden, Dolly (Tricia Paoluccio) springs forth, actualizing from the poster. Ever the optimist, she will cheer up Kevin with a series of songs that she either wrote or recorded (solo or with other people). The singer-actors carry the evening to delightful heights even if the concept and narrative do not consistently match that lofty performance bar. The duo engage in one vignette after another and, not surprisingly, several are irresistible while a few are less enthralling.
This is not a revue but more a jukebox musical, one which makes the very most of some well-known songs. The first act catches attention, but the more captivating numbers, such as "9 To 5," "Sing for the Common Man," "Islands in the Stream," and "I Will Always Love You" dominate the second hour.
Thematically, Here You Come Again is designed to lift spirits with Dolly's "hang in there" philosophy through song ringing truly and clearly. Kevin was waiting tables in New York City, hoping for an opportunity to shine as a comedian, when he was placed on furlough. He's despondent and dealing with meals his mother sends literally up to him via a dumbwaiter. Bruce Vilanch, Gabriel Barre, and Tricia Paoluccio collectively authored this touring play. Barre both directs and choreographs, and Eugene Gwozdz provides musical direction and orchestrations. Three unseen instrumentalists are significant contributors as well.
Anna Louizos's quite enticing set includes Kevin's bed, a couple of chairs hanging from the ceiling, a small refrigerator and, well, all kinds of items and junk that clutter up the attic. The space is equipped precisely and perfectly for the fast-paced action.
With numerous TV and Broadway credits, Risch creates a sympathetic Kevin. The guy's an underdog who is down on himself and his luck. Yet, even at the outset, he has a charming sparkle about him. Further, Risch sings and harmonizes with great care.
Tricia Paoluccio has said that since she was a small child she's found Dolly Parton heroic. She's been learning, emulating, and copying Dolly for years until helping to formulate the current production. She is absolutely first rate and spot on with her performance. It's a pleasure to watch and listen to Paoluccio embody the woman she, herself, has adored. That she comforts the heartbroken, seeming loser Kevin adds some depth.
Still, performance trumps connectivity and narrative. The creative team supply plenty of feeling and lively doses of comedic interface. As it evolves, however, one begins to anticipate and then receive vocal dexterity rather than riveting storyline. The two artists on stage seem to know one another. (Each has been on Hulu's "Saint X" so they might have worked together previously.) What really matters is that their chemistry is exalted and those who seek positivity will embrace the quality of work. Paoluccio and Risch light up the stage.
Here You Come Again: How Dolly Saved My Life in 12 Easy Songs runs through August 27, 2023, at Goodspeed Musicals, Terris Theatre, 33 N Main St., Chester CT. For tickets and information, please call 860-873-8668 or visit Goodspeed.org.