Parton opens new Dollywood season with an international flair

Mar. 23, 2013 @ 08:31 AM

Dollywood gave season pass holders and media a sneak preview Friday of what the park will have in store for the 2013 season.

It's going global.

Around 9 a.m., guests began gathering outside the park's gates in the unseasonably cold weather. They were let into the Celebrity Theatre a little while later, and at 11 a.m., the lights dimmed.

The show kicked off with Cirque Shanghai, an East Asian acrobatic display of flips, high-flying stunts, sequins and flowing ribbons, set to the beat of bongo drums.

The centerpiece of the Cirque Shanghai preview involved a kind of metal seesaw. One acrobat stood on the right end of the seesaw, and two others jumped from a ladder onto the left side, propelling the lone acrobat high into the air, flipping all the way to a perfect landing on a safety mat.

"That's not easy to do," said Dolly Parton, entering the stage on a drum carried by performers.

Cirque Shanghai is the headlining piece to the park's Festival of Nations, and is one of six additional series the park will host this season.

"As great as 2012 was, 2013 is going to be even better," Parton said. "You get all the excitement of 2012, plus you get more. ... We are introducing six new shows this year."

Another new show keeping the Oriental spirit is Mystic India, a fusion of dance, theater and visual effects that features 25 professional dancers and hundreds of extravagant consumes.

"I call it Bollywood to Dollywood," Parton said. "I thought that was clever."

A group of Dollywood performers sang and danced numbers from the other new programs: The Great American Summer, The Great American Country Show, My People — Dolly's Letter Home, and Dollywood's A Christmas Carol.

"The shows are going to have a lot of hot, new country," Parton said of The Great American Country Show. "And some of my friends in country music are going to be in the shows every day."

Parton's brother Randy and sister Cassie, who will be performing at the park this year, also made an appearance on stage, singing a brief number with Parton.

"You'll have to come to the park to hear the rest," Parton said.

Visitors to the park are looking forward to the new season.

"I love the shows," said Dayton, Ohio native Anna Collins, who came to the park with her husband James. "We love all of it, and just the idea of what Dolly does for the community."

The two get season passes to Dollywood every year, and they made a special weekend trip to the park to see Cirque Shanghai and enjoy the opening.

"We come probably three or four times a year," Collins said.

The park opens to the public today, and Dollywood's Splash Country opens May 11. It will feature RiverRush, the state's first and only water coaster.

rhargett@themountainpress.com