Arts, Reviews

Fringe 2019: Coat of Many Colours

I’ve always liked Dolly Parton’s music, but never paid much attention to her private life.

Coat of Many Colours explores Dolly’s life and career through storytelling and music. The flex space at CKUA Radio downtown was set up like a concert, with a five-piece band on stage. There were two Dollys: Andrea House and Gianna Reed-Skelton, both dressed in Dolly’s pigtails, plaid shirts, and flannel jeans stage. They made a point of explaining that they were not attempting to impersonate Dolly. Yet, with distinct voices and heavenly harmonies, they embodied Dolly’s spirit, or more accurately, the spirit of Dolly’s songs.

Backing them were two veterans of the Edmonton music and theatre scenes, keyboardist and singer Eric Mortimer and guitarlist and singer Harley Symington, along with Austin, Texas-based guitarist Mitch Watkins, who has toured nationally with Leonard Cohen, Lyle Lovitz, and Joe Ely, and as a solo act.

I had an epiphany about Dolly’s songwriting greatness when House said of one of Dolly’s biggest hits: “You can do ‘9 to 5’ in any style and it still sounds like itself.” (She and the band proceeded to prove the point with a blues version of the song.) Dolly’s best-known songs are characterized by mellifluous melodies and empathetic lyrics. Her insights were gained through experience, some of it heartbreakingly difficult. House and Reed-Skelton told stories with feeling and a lack of sensationalism, taking us through Dolly’s life, from her impoverished childhood, to the night Dolly held a gun to her head at the height of her career.

Kudos to the Starlight Players and director Davina Stewart for bringing such beautiful music from a beautiful soul to the Fringe.

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