Kelly Lawler, USA TODAY
Published 9:55 a.m. ET Nov. 19, 2020 | Updated 10:42 a.m. ET Nov. 19, 2020
Hallmark’s “Countdown to Christmas” and Lifetime’s “It’s A Wonderful Lifetime” will both look a little different this year.
Dolly Parton is a singing, glittering angel. A fictional one, that is.
In her new Netflix movie musical, “Christmas on the Square” (streaming Sunday), Parton, 74, returns to her sweet, holiday roots as an angel sent to help a rich Scrooge (Christine Baranski) learn some generosity and love at Christmastime.
Shamelessly cheesy with an old-fashioned movie musical energy, it’s standard, heartwarming holiday fare, like Parton’s other TV holiday films. Its songs and stars, which include Jennifer Lewis and direction and choreography by Debbie Allen, make it feel all the more epic.
“I always wanted to write” a Christmas musical, Parton says. “I got to act in the movie, got to sing it and got to write all the music. So I felt very proud of the whole movie.”
USA TODAY caught up with Parton, who donated $1 million to fund a COVID-19 vaccine, about the film, and how she’s handling a Christmas season amid the pandemic.
Question: How are you doing during the pandemic?
Dolly Parton: We try to stay safe with the pandemic, making sure we all get our tests and do our social distancing, wearing a mask. But then we try to forget about it so we can do our work. It is not easy, but we’re still working, we’re being productive.
Q: Where did the idea for “Christmas on the Square” come from?
Parton: The title and the basic idea was Sam Haskell’s, who is my business partner and the executive producer. We’ve done several movies together, “A Coat of Many Colors,” “Christmas of Many Colors,” “Circle of Love.” … He was telling me he was going to write a book called “Christmas on the Square” and I said, ‘Why don’t we make that into a musical instead of a book and you write another book? This sounds like the perfect thing for a Christmas musical.’
Q: Was it easy to get the cast and director/choreographer Debbie Allen involved?
Parton: Well, I loved working with all of them. We had Jennifer Lewis, who is a hoot and who is so talented. She has such a great song. Treat Williams plays the male lead, and we just had so many great stars in it.
Q: It’s been a hard year, and I found watching the film really lifted my spirits. That’s the whole point of holiday movies, but do you see any extra significance this year?
Parton: I do. I really feel so blessed this year with this movie coming out. I think it is just what people are gonna need. It’s about how everybody in every little town, every community, each family, they’re struggling. (It’s relatable) with COVID and the economy and with all of our fear and the doubt and not being able to get out and do what you normally do for Christmas.
So I really think it speaks to family, and it is about love and acceptance and just drawing people into what the whole spirit of Christmas should be about.
And so I have my Christmas album out called “Holly Dolly Christmas” (a related CBS special is due Dec. 6, 8:30 EST/PST), and it’s the same thing. I really felt like it was a good time to be out like that. We need a little Christmas. We need some joy. A merry, merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas.
Q: Watching “Christmas,” with its grand staging, dancing and music, it felt as if I were watching a Broadway musical instead of a TV movie.
Parton: They built this wonderful set of this whole little town and we found this wonderful house down there for Regina, the mean old witch that owns the town. So we really got in the spirit of it and felt like that we were really in that little town. … And it really felt like a Broadway musical. It was a small town, but a big small town. It had the feel of bigness and the way that Debbie choreographed the numbers I think made it more like Broadway.
Q: Have you had to change your family’s holiday plans due to the pandemic, as so many of us have?
There’s so much craziness going on right now with the election and all of that, so you can’t even calm down enough to even think past what’s happening day to day. I really haven’t made that many plans for Christmas this year because I would not want to drag my family around (where) they might be harmed, or get sick. … We’re going to be very careful. I’m really hoping that I get a chance to be with as many of my family (members) as I can be safely, and so I need a little more time to think about Christmas.
I’m just kind of wanting to catch my breath right now. Merle Haggard wrote a song was called “If We Make it Through December We’ll Be Fine,” and every morning I wake up kind of singing that. I’m just gonna wait.
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