This show was based on a satirical movie that is reasonably funny and well-remembered, but which was already an over-the-top live-action cartoon to begin with. The musical exaggerates it even further, resulting in a gaudy, hammy caricature of a show.
But as cheesy as the show is, it’s an undeniable crowd-pleaser…it was a fairly quick failure on Broadway, but has become wildly popular in local productions, and that can be credited mostly to the music.
The score is by the legendary country singer-songwriter Dolly Parton, and while it doesn’t equal the legendary work of her early heyday, it’s still a first-rate theater score. The title-song Parton wrote for the original movie remains a highlight, of course, but several of the new songs very nearly equal it.
The three leading characters are vividly brought to life in such items as the quietly hopeful “I Just Might”, the defiantly optimistic “Shine Like the Sun”, the dynamic feminist anthem “Change It”, the lilting romantic duet “Let Love Grow”, and especially the stunning eleven-o’clocker “Get Out And Stay Out”. There’s also the winning “Backwoods Barbie”, Parton’s establishing song for her character from the film, which sounds suspiciously like her description of herself and which is the only song in the score to feature Parton’s trademark country sound.
The villains score strongly, too—they each get a showstopper, Kathy Fitzgerald with the riotously funny “Heart to Hart” and Marc Kudisch with the gospel-flavored “Always a Woman”. Kudisch’s role is the most improved from the film…Dabney Coleman was only allowed to be a creep, whereas the change in medium gives Kudisch the chance to play up the character as a deliciously hammy, moustache-twirling, entertaining creep.
Parton’s songs are easily the best thing about the show, and were powerfully delivered by the three original leads, especially Stephanie J. Block in one of her best roles. This isn’t exactly a ‘good’ show, but Parton’s score gives it a certain legitimacy it wouldn’t otherwise have had, and it can’t really be dismissed.