Hologram ghosts are a highlight of "Dollywood's A Christmas Carol"

Nov. 24, 2013 @ 10:02 AM

If you want to get a big dose of Dolly Parton the next time you visit Dollywood, you have opportunities. You can visit her museum, Chasing Rainbows. You can see her filmed performances in the shows "My People" and "Heartsong."

And, this Christmas, you can watch a hologram version of Parton disappear in a cloud of cartoon butterflies.

Parton appears as a crooning, wisecracking Ghost of Christmas Past in the park's newest show, "Dollywood's A Christmas Carol." Her recorded image, and those of other ghostly visitors, are projected alongside the live performers who act and sing their way through Charles Dickens' classic tale.

Presented in DP's Celebrity Theater, "A Christmas Carol" debuted Nov. 9 as part of Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas season, which runs through Jan. 4. The show, directed by Curt Wollan, stars a boisterous Aaron Hunt as Scrooge, the prickly miser who learns a redemptive yuletide lesson after a series of unearthly encounters.

An impressive bit of stagecraft, the hologram effect is "the production element that distinguishes us from all other productions of 'A Christmas Carol,'" said Dollywood Entertainment Director Paul Couch.

He continued: "Next to Dolly's music." Yes, fans of Parton's songwriting can hear eight new tunes she penned, among them wistful ballads and rollicking chorus numbers.

"Dolly is a wonderful country songwriter, and everybody knows her best for that," Couch said. "But she's also a great stage writer," he added, citing her 2009 Broadway musical "9 to 5," as well as her scores for Dollywood shows like "Sha-Kon-O-Hey!"

"She really understands how to craft songs," Couch said. "A country song is a piece of drama and theater, all by itself, in three minutes. Here (in 'A Christmas Carol'), the songs collectively are telling the story."

Parton is "great to work with," said Couch, the show's executive producer. "She is the ultimate collaborator. She understands that people coming together with creative ideas make the show better. She could dominate the process. She could say, 'Paul, this is what we're going to do,' and I'd be happy to follow that direction. But that's not the way she operates."

The Ghost of Christmas Past isn't Scrooge's only eerie visitor, of course. There's a spooky, masked Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Ryan Roets plays a giant Ghost of Christmas Present, and Nathan Forshey is an unsettling ghost of Jacob Marley. Marley is the show's most spectacular hologram, a wan wraith surrounded by floating chains.

The hologram effect is "really cool when you see it," Couch said. "What's cool is how well it integrates into the show. It's a great vehicle for opening up Scrooge to the audience and allowing them to develop an understanding of who he is as a character, develop their sympathies for him."

The hardware for the hologram effects is "very specific, demanding and invasive," Couch said. It is hidden amid the Victorian flourishes of the elaborately decorated set, which was designed by Alan Donohue.

"Dollywood's A Christmas Carol" is one of several Smoky Mountain Christmas shows. Others include "Christmas in the Smokies," "O Holy Night" and "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." "Christmas is a big deal at Dollywood," Couch said.

The new show's big moment arrives when Scrooge has his epiphany and is redeemed, Couch said.

"You really hear the audience cheering, and it's not just because they saw holograms, cool sets and pretty costumes," he said. "They are fully engaged in the story at that point. That's the significance of all of it, the show's ability to touch the audience from an emotional standpoint. That's what makes it successful and effective. If we couldn't do that, all the holograms in the world aren't going to save us."

kburns@themountainpress.com