Review Round Up: Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol, Queen Elizabeth Hall

Dolly Parton’s musical featuring a book by David H. Bell has arrived in London – but does it warm the critics hearts?  

(c)Manuel Harlan

Broadway World: **** “And what about Dolly’s contribution? Her music and lyrics are pretty much what you would expect: countrified pop which goes from gloriously raucous footstompers sung by the entire company like “Party Time” to soothing duets like “Three Candles” (sadly one candle short of being comedy gold). Musical director Andrew Hilton’s six-piece band cranks up the volume to eleven at times but lulls us into softer moments too. Unlike many new musicals, the songs are memorable and uplifting in their own right. There are other musical takes on this classic already playing (not least the brilliantly funny A Christmas Carol-ish) but none with the Parton magic dusted liberally over story, music and lyrics.”

The Guardian: ** “If you come for Parton’s songs, you will most likely enjoy this show and the live band, whose instruments include the banjo, mandolin and at one point the spoons. If only there were more music, less book.”

The Independent: ** “Classic Christmas tale is given the Parton treatment, in a saccharine musical with flashes of fun.”

The Telegraph: **** “Alas, Dolly Parton herself does not appear, but her spirit thoroughly pervades this unexpectedly charming new southern-fried take on Dickens. And although we hardly need yet another Christmas Carol, this musical one (originally crafted for Parton’s Dollywood theme park) feels fresh thanks to its transposition to Depression-era East Tennessee, where Parton herself grew up in poverty.”

All That Dazzles: *** “Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol is a harmless piece of fun. While it may not be the most amazing show that is out there this Christmas, it is still pleasant enough. Slightly inconsistent music and an underwhelming performance from its leading actor are more than made up for in a hugely impressive supportive cast and great production elements.”

(c)Manuel Harlan

Time Out: *** “Salvation aside, this is a fun and tuneful night out. As a version of ‘A Christmas Carol’, though, it lacks the requisite killer instinct.”

Evening Standard: *** “Maybe I’m being Scroogeish. There are great numbers here, from the revivalist Hell to the sweetly simple Three Candles. The three men who created this Christmas Carol with Parton, and the director and choreographer Alison Pollard, are not visionaries, but professionals who know what’s needed. The arc of the story works its remorseless power.”

London Theatre.co.uk: **** “But taken on its own, openhearted terms, the show captivates throughout, buoyed aloft by music and lyrics from Parton that range from plaintive solos and duets to rousing company numbers with titles like “Good Time”: you get what it says on the tin but with more exuberance (and, may I say, better American accents) than I had anticipated.”

The Arts Desk: *** “And, even if we Brits may feel a bit sniffy about Scrooge’s reinvention, he’s been kidnapped by Dolly Parton, the patron saint of country songs, for a holiday run on the South Bank – so listen y’all, there’ll be no rootin’ tootin’ about that round these parts.”

WhatsOnStage: *** “That accusation couldn’t be levelled at the cast, however, who sell the schmaltz for everything it’s worth, and then some, and field a bunch of truly magnificent voices. George Maguire excels both as a kindly Cratchit and an enjoyably naughty Marley, whose queasy loucheness feels like an extended Beetlejuice audition (personally, I’d give him the role). Halle Brown is genuinely moving as the woman who loves the young Scrooge, as is Sarah O’Connor as his doomed sister (who also gets probably the best number with the gorgeous, and oft-reprised, ballad “Three Candles”). Danny Whitehead does lovely work as the early Scrooge and his good-hearted nephew.”

(c)Manuel Harlan

iNews: *** “It’s admirable to attempt a Christmas Carol that’s so rooted in a specific time and place. But this story’s real darkness comes from events we’re only told about: the miners who get shot in industrial unrest; the pregnant 14-year-old with no money to feed her expected twins.”

West End Best Friend: *** “Dolly Parton’s music and lyrics fit the festive country feeling. The music may not significantly add to the story but it plays a complimentary role in developing this particular version’s atmosphere, largely by violinist Corey Wickens who plays excellently, regularly fitting in seamlessly with the acting cast. The many ensemble roles allow this cast to showcase their singing talent, with particular highlights including Sarah O’Connor’s vocals as Fanny and others, and Vicki Lee Taylor’s leading performance in the song, ‘Appalachian Snowfall’. Scott Davis’ set is modest but succeeds in creating a warm and cosy winter setting that almost feels intimate within the vastness of Queen Elizabeth Hall.”

Theatre Weekly: “Robert Bathurst is a perfect Ebenezer Scrooge, particularly cruel in the beginning, the gradual change is almost imperceptible, making the final moments of redemption all the more heartwarming.”

The Reviews Hub: *** “With moments of great tenderness, solid set-piece performances with some of the musical numbers, and a few great tunes the production does have quite a lot going for it. But with more than enough alternate Christmas Carols around this year, it’s not clear why this one should be the version of choice for most of us, apart from curious Dolly Parton fans.”

The Stage: *** “East Tennessee twist on the Charles Dickens festive favourite is a cornball musical strictly for the sentimental.”

Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol will play at the Queen Elizabeth Hall  until the 8th January 2023.

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