Here You Come Again - UK Tour. Photo by Hugo Glendinning

Interview: Tricia Paoluccio, who stars as Dolly Parton in new musical Here You Come Again

New musical Here You Come Again has started its run at Leeds Playhouse ahead of a major UK tour.

The show is centred on Kevin, a 40-year-old has-been-who-never-was comedian whose imagined version of international icon Dolly Parton gets him through trying times.

In the show, Dolly pops up throughout, played by American actor and writer Tricia Paoluccio who is reprising her role as Dolly Parton following an acclaimed US run of the show.

The cast also features Steven Webb (Oliver!The Book of MormonThe History Boys) as Kevin.

We caught up with Tricia to talk Dolly and more!

Tricia Paoluccio
Tricia Paoluccio

What can audiences expect when they come to see the show?

I think every audience member, no matter who they are, will find something very relatable in the character of Kevin (brilliantly portrayed by Stevie Webb). And I think they’ll find the show to be really funny, with lots of laughs, but they’ll also be surprised by how deep and emotional it is. It’s a play with music, with the side benefit of it also sometimes feeling like a Dolly Parton concert.

What was the original inspiration for the show?

I’ve always loved Dolly and been able to sing like her. It was my dream to someday be able to use this ability in a theatrical way and thought the best way to do it, was to have it be another person’s journey. What developed was a story about an uber-fan’s fantasy friendship with Dolly. I wanted to show Dolly in action, to see her helping another person, versus it being a bio musical about her life.

What was the collaborative process with Gabriel Barre and Bruce Vilanch, with whom you co-wrote the original script?

This experience has been one of the most harmonious, joyous experiences of my creative career. We each brought something unique to the journey. Gabriel is an expert in creating the theatrical framework and keeping us on track. He’s such a diplomat and truly a great director. I helped conceive of the basic story and I’d share how I think Dolly would say something or how I think she would behave in a situation. And then Bruce is just a comedy genius. He fleshed out the dialogue based on all of our brainstorming sessions with personal insights to Dolly since he wrote for her and the world of stand up comics since he’s also from that world. It’s been a wonderful joint effort.

And what does Jonathan Harvey, who has worked with you on the UK version, bring to the table?

He is so funny. He’s a great writer, with fine-tuned taste, and the main thing he’s contributed is helping us set it in England because we had to change all of our cultural references. He’s also helped us to understand how things will hit a British audience because British audiences are different than American audiences and your experience during 2020 was a little different than ours.

Here You Come Again - UK Tour. Photo by Hugo Glendinning
Here You Come Again – UK Tour. Tricia Paoluccio and Steven Webb. Photo by Hugo Glendinning

How did you set about ‘becoming’ Dolly for the show?

I like to say that I began rehearsing for this role when I was five years old, when I first heard Here You Come Again on the radio. I remember that moment vividly. I begged for the record and I memorised every song on it. I’ve always been able to tune my vocal cords to hit her vibrato and to find that cry in her voice and the musicality of her styling. When it came time to doing our show, though, I did not have her speaking voice down. I worked with a very celebrated dialect coach named Erik Singer, who helped Austin Butler prepare to play Elvis. We worked together on cracking her speaking voice and that took a bit more effort. I’ve watched tons of Dolly videos and early interviews to absorb how she does and says things, her mannerisms and everything. I just love to study her.

How important to you is it not to simply do a Parton impersonation?

Very important. There are wonderful tribute artists out there doing great things to spread the love of Dolly. But in terms of a play or a musical, I don’t think that would be a very satisfying evening in the theatre. I do not think about impersonating her. I’m only thinking about what my objective is in the story and I trust that Dolly’s presence is strong enough in me to let it go.

What did you feel was important to get right about her as a person as well as a singer?

Dolly is a very practical person. She’s no-nonsense and wise. I wanted to make sure that she stayed grounded and real. While we have very performative moments to the audience, I wanted to show her in a very truthful and down-to-earth way. I also wanted to show Dolly doing very humble things. I envisioned her as the kind of friend who if you’re going through a hard time would help clean up your kitchen and eat a meal with you. She’s not so rich and famous that she’s above doing those little things.

With so many songs to choose from, how did you and the team decide what to include?

I love the late-70s/early 80s-Dolly, so I came up with a kind of hit list. But I have to give credit to our lawyer Thomas Distler, who’s responsible for making this all happen because he knew Dolly Parton’s lawyer and got the material to her. That’s how we got permission to be able to do the show and the rights to all her music. Tom also said ‘You’ve got to find a way to put Jolene in there’. At first we didn’t have it in the show because it didn’t really fit our storyline, but we found a wonderful way to put it in and I’m really glad that we did.

Do you have a favourite song to perform in the show?

It’s like picking a favourite child and I love them all for different reasons. But I think my favourite one to perform is Me And Little Andy. It’s just so sad and strange, where Dolly does a little girl voice and it takes this painfully tragic turn. I love performing it and I love the reaction it gets from the audience. If you don’t know the song already don’t listen to it before you come to see the show!Let yourself be surprised because I want you to have the same reaction that Kevin does.

Like Dolly, you grew up on a farm – albeit an almond farm. Do you have other things in common with her?

Like her, I’m very lucky to have had a happy childhood. I’m from a loving family and now as an adult I recognise how rare that is. My parents gave my brother and I a very wholesome childhood and I think this greatly shaped my outlook on life and helped me to be a positive, optimistic person. I’m also grateful for an understanding of God that brings me a lot of comfort and joy. I credit God with all good things, just as Dolly’s faith is the backbone of her creativity and art. So many of her songs reflect that in a way that’s very universal and easy for people to accept – even people who might not have a belief in God themselves. She’s able to share her faith in a very simple way that people can understand.

Here You Come Again - UK Tour. Photo by Hugo Glendinning
Here You Come Again – UK Tour. Tricia Paoluccio and Steven Webb. Photo by Hugo Glendinning

How would you describe your relationship with Dolly’s music?

As a child I spent hours and hours walking around our almond orchard in Modesto, California singing her songs, imagining how life might be as a grown up. Singing along to her made me want to become an actress, because I loved how she told stories and how emotional her songs could be. I can’t express enough how deeply her artistry has influenced my entire life – a love of beauty and a love of storytelling, culminating in what I consider the greatest achievement of my career – creating and being in this show. It’s the honour of a lifetime.

Why do you think she’s so beloved?

She grew up very poor, made it big and has handled herself with dignity and grace her whole career. Watching interviews with her from the 70s, they’re just crazy. She gets asked the most insulting and sexist questions and she never takes offence. But she never backs down either. She sticks up for herself with great humility and humour. What I also admire is how she uses her wealth and influence to donate to and bring attention to worthy causes, and she has managed to stay true to herself and her beliefs without ever taking sides. She fights for the little guy, uses her power for good and basically is one of the kindest, sweetest human beings ever to walk the earth. I’m just in awe of the life she’s created for herself and all she has given to the world.

If you got to meet her, what’s the one thing you’d want to ask her?

I met her sister Rachel, who saw our show in Tennessee, but unfortunately Dolly was away shooting music videos for her rock album so she wasn’t able to come along herself. I don’t know what I’d do if I ever met her. I’d die! I would ask her first ‘Can I borrow some of your wigs for our show?’ But if I was having a real heart-to-heart with Dolly I’d want to know ‘How have you been able to navigate your life and career the way that you have?’ She really has never had a misstep.

As well as a performer, you are also an artist and designer. How do you juggle that with theatre work?

I think when you love to do something you always find the energy and time for it. I’m really passionate about flower pressing and I’ve been doing it my whole life. A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to be discovered by some luminaries in the fashion and music industries. I started doing these collaborations that became very successful, such as the Ă“scar de la Renta collaboration which led to Taylor Swift wearing that pressed flower dress at the Grammys. Then Anna Wintour wore one of ODLR’s designs, which used my art as the pattern, at the Met Gala. It gave me the confidence to create a whole brand using pressed flower imagery in high design and now I’ve created a business. I really hope to make connections in the UK because I have a little following here of passionate flower pressers which I hope to nurture. I also hope to pick and press flowers in the UK and make a body of work inspired by the flowers of this beautiful part of the world.

Here You Come Again is currently playing at Leeds Playhouse until 8 June 2024, and then tours the UK.

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📷 Main photo: Here You Come Again - UK Tour. Photo by Hugo Glendinning

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