We are a nation divided on so many fronts but I believe there are certain things upon which we can all agree, to wit:
Dolly Parton is a national treasure.
Who’s with me? Show of hands, please!
Ah. That’s what I thought. National. Treasure.
Netflix is churning out Christmas movies in volumes to rival those sheets of cookies your mom used to make that were shaped like trees and covered in red and green sprinkles, with the latest being “Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square,” with Dolly Parton not only playing a guardian angel but contributing 14 original songs, each one sweeter and more melodic and, yes, cornier than the one before. This is an unabashedly sentimental, family-friendly mashup of “A Christmas Carol” with “It’s a Wonderful Life,” sure to leave you smiling and maybe even a little teary-eyed. From the opening graphics that look like something out of the 1960s through the happily-ever-after ending, “Christmas on the Square” wants nothing more than to make you feel cozy, safe and warm.
Not a bad recipe for these troubled times.
Based on the play “Christmas on the Square,” the movie retains a deliberately stagey persona, with most of the story taking place in an old-fashioned town square, where everybody knows your name and there’s magic in the air because after all, it’s Christmas time! (The square in “Jingle Jangle” was more cinematically rich and fantastical, but this looks like a fun place to hang out as well.) In the opening number, we see Parton as someone who appears to be homeless, holding a cardboard box that says simply: “CHANGE.” (Hmmm, perhaps there’s a double meaning in store for us.) She sings:
Christmas is a time for caring, being at your best
Christmas is a time for sharing, knowing you’ve been blessed
Christmas is a time for giving, love is made of this
Cause that’s what Christmas is
That’s about as deep as the lyrics go, folks. When it comes to musicals set in the buildup to Christmas, this ain’t “Rent.”
In a rousing medley to kick off the story, we meet some of the friendlier friendly faces of the town of Fullerville, many of whom have small businesses in the town square. Right there in front of the general store and resale shop, say hello to Treat Williams’ Carl — and while Treat Williams is best known for playing cops and heavies, let’s not forget how great he was in the 1979 musical classic, “Hair,” and he sounds wonderful here. Carl’s neighbors in the square include Jenifer Lewis’ Margeline, a feisty spirit who runs Le Beauty Shop, and Pastor Christian Hathaway (Josh Segarra) and his wife Jenna (Mary Lane Haskell), who have a small shop featuring clothes and toys for infants and toddlers and have been trying to have a baby of their own for some time now. We’ll also soon meet Matthew Johnson’s Mack, a single father who runs the town bar, the Lamplighter Inn, and Mack’s adorable daughter Violet (Selah Kimbro Jones).
Everyone has their troubles and regrets, yet they’re all grateful to be living in a town such as Fullerville — but that’s about to change, if Christine Baranski’s Regina Fuller has her way. Regina left Fullerville as a young woman and never looked back as she made her fortune in the big city, but now that her father (who was essentially the town founder) has passed away and left her the deeds to the town properties, Regina wants to buy up every last business in the square, demolish them and build some sort of soulless mega-mall. Boooooooo! Hissssssss!
Jeanine Mason sparkles as Regina’s assistant, Felicity, who is in reality an angel-in-training a la Clarence Odbody in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Although everyone can see Felicity, only Regina can see Dolly Parton’s Angel, who, like the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, has made it her mission to show Regina the errors of her ways and melt her frozen heart. Why, there might even be a chance for Regina to revisit the romance she once shared with Carl, who has carried a torch for her all these years.
“Christmas on the Square” pulls out all the stops, from Christian and Jenna pledging their love for one another even if they never are gifted with a child, to the Tiny Tim-like Violet hospitalized with a life-threatening injury, to some expertly executed group song-and-dance numbers (thanks to the legendary Debbie Allen, who directs and choreographs) to the most welcome spectacle of a glowing, glimmering Dolly Parton watching over the town and its good people.
Ho ho hooray.