Lighthouse Theatre opens season with tribute to country legend Dolly Parton

Lighthouse Festival Theatre kicks off its 2012 season by paying tribute to a legend when Rhinestone Cowgirl: a Tribute to Dolly Parton opens May 22. The beginning of the new season also marks singer/actress Leisa Way’s return to Port Dover, after last appearing at LFT in the 2007 hit comedy The Long Weekend.

Way is working hard preparing to open the season. She not only stars in the concert, she also researched and wrote the dialogue in between songs, assembled and rehearsed the band, and looks after all the bookings and accommodations.

“It’s a one-person operation, and a lot of work,” Way explained, “but I enjoy performing and sharing my love of Dolly Parton’s music with audiences, so it’s all a very rewarding experience.”

In developing the show, Way made sure to recreate the experience of attending one of Parton’s concerts as closely as possible. “I researched everything I could. Every bit of dialogue I speak in the show came out of Dolly’s mouth at some point. She’s so smart and funny; she’s the queen of one-liners.”

Even Way’s costumes were made by Dolly’s own costumer, Joyce Critchlow, who lives in Toronto.

Despite this in-depth attention to detail, Way insists she’s not trying to be Parton. “I’m a fan first and foremost, and that fandom definitely comes through during the concert. “I didn’t want to make this a caricature of Dolly; that’s been done. She’s had plenty of jokes told at her expense, to the point where she eventually started making them on her own to take the sting away. This is a very respectful, loving tribute that focuses on her amazing performances and song writing genius.”

Way states that Parton’s writing ability is often overlooked. “She’s had 25 number one hits in genres ranging from country to disco, and she did it over five decades. She’s also the only artist to hit number one with the same song three times (I Will Always Love You). That’s unprecedented, and will probably never be equalled. She now has a whole new generation of fans because of her role on Hannah Montana.”

Way demonstrates a clear affection for Port Dover while discussing her imminent return. She cites meeting with friends at the Erie Beach, visiting the Hobo Store, and shopping at the GT Boutique among her favorite Port Dover activities.

Frequent Lighthouse Theatre patrons will also recognize another familiar face in Way’s band. Aaron Solomon, who most recently played Johnny Cash in the 2010 production of Johnny and June, joins Way on-stage and plays an impressive list of stringed instruments including fiddle, mandolin, guitar, bass, and dobro. The band is rounded out by pianist Bruce Ley, who once played for Dolly Parton herself when she appeared on the Tommy Hunter Show; Sylvia Tyson bass player Randall Kempf; Holly Cole guitarist Kim Ratcliffe; and drummer Dave Wilson, who also writes the short musical numbers that welcome guests on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.

“I’ve been with this group of guys for six years, and they’re incredible. We’ve reached an almost telepathic stage relationship,” Way explained. “Even people who aren’t as familiar with Dolly’s career – maybe they got dragged to the show by their husbands or wives – have come up to me after shows and said how much they enjoyed the show simply because the music is so good.”

“They could probably do the show without me,” she added. “But let’s not tell them that.”

Rhinestone Cowgirl: a Tribute to Dolly Parton is on-stage at Lighthouse Festival Theatre from May 22-June 16. Tickets are available online at or by phoning the box office at (519) 583-0881.