Here You Come Again: at Leeds Playhouse Until 8 June

Here You Come Again: a new musical sensation debuting in our very own Leeds – ‘Food for the soul.’

What can be better on a Friday night than to check out a brand-new show featuring the music of the legend Dolly Parton that’s about to take the UK by storm?

…..and it’s happening right here in Leeds! Yes, for nearly four weeks this fresh, fun production is making its debut in the City before sharing its glory with the rest of the country.

Steven Webb as Kevin and Tricia Paoluccio as Dolly

‘Here You Come Again’ is the brainchild of Bruce Vilanch, Gabriel Barre, Tricia Paoluccio and Jonathan Harvey, and what an absolutely inspirational idea it was, too. Set during the darkest days of Covid lockdown, we are greeted with a struggling Kevin, a lonely self-isolating man, the ‘wrong-side of 40’, coping with the loss of both his career and his relationship with his boyfriend, neither of which were very successful in the first place. Trapped in his parents attic with nowhere to go, his dive into depression is saved by the appearance of his life-time idol, the one and only Dolly Parton, as she steps out from a poster on his wall. Singing and talking him through his heartbreak and lack of confidence, Dolly helps to repair his esteem as only a pop icon can. 

Steven Webb and Tricia Paoluccio

At first, the realisation that this show was set in lockdown shocked me: I was expecting a production about the life of Dolly Parton. Instead, we were transported to an attic, a cluttered space of memories that gave a sense of claustrophobia. Covid isn’t exactly a time that most of us want to think about and I rarely enjoy seeing programmes set in this era, not that mine was a particularly bad experience but just that the event was a national catastrophe and one I would quite like to forget. However, very quickly we are introduced to Kevin (by himself to be precise as he breaks the 4th wall and welcomes us to his world) and I instantly fell in love with his flamboyant yet unassuming charm, his love of performing contrasting with his self-deprecating and nervous manner. His hilarious one-liners to the audience highlight his life-long ambition to be a comedian, his lack of confidence his main limitation.

Steven Webb who performs as Kevin, was utterly outstanding in this role. They talk in the theatre about performers who are ‘triple threats’: being able to dance, sing and act. Webb is a quadruple threat, when you add on top of this his perfect, quick paced, comic timing. He manages this without any arrogance on stage, without falling into the trap of being a prima donna. He made us laugh and cry and ultimately root for his transition from a broken shell of a man into the person he is capable of being. When he duets with Dolly in no way is he outshone but compliments her husky tones with a beautiful tenor voice that has such a soft, velvet-like quality to it. 

Steven Webb

Of course, to put on a show about Dolly Parton you have to have a truly amazing performer to portray the legend herself, and that is not easy to find. However, Tricia Paoluccio (the same Tricia who co-wrote the show!) lived up to these exceptionally high standards and absolutely sparkled, quite literally in those dresses, as the queen of country herself. Her statement Tennessee twang and her signature lilting soprano singing voice were both perfectly mimicked, as was her famously tender nature and heart of gold. Dolly comforted Kevin, not just with music but with rational ideas and motivation. Her entrance on stage was each time magical (they actually hired magician Richard Pinner to do some pretty amazing tricks in this show!) and she utterly owned the stage. 

Everything about the production was engaging to look at without being too overpowering. The ordinariness of the attic contrasted with the celebrity glitz of Dolly. Her costumes were amazing – sparkling and extremely tight-fitting in true Dolly fashion, making me want to immediately go shopping for a new wardrobe. It was great to see so many of the audience dressing up in their own Dolly cowboy hats too, so don’t feel like you’d be on your own if you want to join in the magic. 

The Company

I often grumble that musicians in a musical are often overlooked, but in this show they are a main feature of the performance, as indeed they should be – Dolly herself is a talented guitarist, pianist and saxophonist (to name but a few). The performers are on stage most of the time during songs, with the two backing vocalists Aidan Cutler and Charlotte Elisabeth Yorke providing voices for the cameo roles of other characters we hear: Kevin’s boss on Facebook video, his boyfriend on a voice message and his parents shouting up from downstairs.

As with Dolly’s original songs, the harmonies in this production are extremely tight and beautiful to listen to: this is an exceptionally well-rehearsed band who gel together perfectly. I was a bit disappointed that we couldn’t see the whole band, such as the drums and harmonica, during the show, but at the end the set astonishingly opened up to reveal the whole band in position as if ready for a full pop concert. Indeed, for the finale the audience was encouraged to stand up and join in as we were treated to a medley of Dolly’s best hits, the Courtyard Theatre turning into an intimate music arena. 

The Company of Here You Come again

I am ashamed to say that I was expecting to know more of the songs, as was the case with the Roy Orbison musical there last year. However, I actually knew only three of them, the classic ‘9-5’, ‘Jolene’ and of course ‘I Will Always Love You’. This didn’t detract from the enjoyment of the show and by the encore I was able to join in with singing the chorus to the titular song ‘Here You Come Again’. After tonight’s performance, I’m going to be listening to Dolly’s greatest hits album on my bike rides to work for sure. The concept of this show is so unique that you would be daft not to go and see it merely for that fact alone.

Two actors basically carried a production (with the help of a stunning band of course) for two hours of pure entertainment. The glitzy world of Dolly merged so well with the mundane life of Kevin that this show has the ability to appeal to all of us in some way or another. It had me looking at the positives in my life rather than dwelling on past regrets or what could have been, as Dolly demanded Kevin to do, making it not only a fun night out but also food for the soul. 

All photography by Hugo Glendinning.