County music icon and national treasure Dolly Parton’s having a moment, thanks to being a paragon of tolerance and exemplar of COVID vaccine philanthropy.
So there’s no being churlish about her new holiday Netflix musical, “Christmas on the Square.” None.
The choreography — Debbie Allen directed the film and oversaw that — sparkles in a few big production numbers.
We forget what a big voice comic actress Jenifer Lewis has, and that she can sing. We don’t remember Treat Williams sang in the film of “Hair.” And while we’re always being reminded that Christine Baranski can sing (“Mamma Mia!”), it bears repeating that she could make a script consisting of a “Do No Remove This Tag” mattress label funny.
And if Saint Dolly — I am NOT using that sarcastically — wants to cast herself as a singing bag lady/angel, we GO with it. Got it?
The vast majority of musicals are packed with pleasant-enough/instantly-forgettable songs. “Square” falls into that category. And the “book” here is a play that I dare say never progressed beyond small town community theater/holiday “church” productions.
It’s a “Wonderful Life,” with songs, a heartless, rich FEMALE villain and an angel already has HER wings. That’s it.
Baranski plays the “wicked witch of the middle” (not Oz’s “East” or “West”) in tiny Fullerville, a postcard/soundstage-perfect village that she’s decided would be better off bulldozed to make way for her planned Cheetah Mall. Mass evictions ensue.
“Who’d do that during the holidays?”
“Rich people…with TAX breaks!”
As the town rallies to “resist” her high-handedness, led by Preacher Christian (Josh Segarra) and the wife (Mary Lane Haskell) he’s hoping to start a family with, old friends (Lewis) and old flames (Williams) aren’t enough to sway /Regina/Cruella’s lust for redevelopment. Even a possible cancer diagnosis won’t sway her.
Dolly’s the angel who tries to help her “change,” by gentle nagging, haunting and singing.
“Everybody needs an angel…” “Oh my God, I DO have a brain tumor!”
“Looking at life in the rear view mirror reveals your destiny…” “I hope if I have another hallucination, it won’t be wearing rhinestones!”
Parton’s hand in the script, beyond the music, might be the story’s Christian message of charity and the directness and squeaky clean nature of the songs — a church “resist” rally where everybody poor-mouths Regina with “rhymes with ‘witch'” lyrics.
“Christmas on the Square” isn’t much, but what’s here is a pleasant enough time-killer, which is more than you can say about the vast majority of holiday-themed Hallmark/Hulu/Netflix et al fare this season. Holiday “classic” it may not be, but Dolly always has been and deserves our thanks and attention accordingly.
MPA Rating: TV-PG
Cast: Dolly Parton, Christine Baranski, Josh Segarra, Mary Lane Haskell, Treat Williams, Jenifer Lewis,
Credits: Directed by Debbie Allen, script by Dolly Parton and Maria S. Schlatter, based on Schlatter’s stage play. A Warner Media/Netflix release.
Running time: 1:38