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Tribute show: Queenstown's Fee Stephenson's performing as Dolly Parton at Arrowtown's Blue Door next month

By MARJORIE COOK

Queenstown performer Fee Stephenson’s adopted a multitude of characters during her 15 years in the resort: Roxie from Chicago, Nancy from Oliver, a Pink Lady from Grease.

Now she’s channelling Dolly Parton in her own take of the maven of country music.

On October 1, Stephenson and friends will explore the singer-songwriter’s appeal to everyone from red-necks to drag queens in her show, ‘Hello Dolly’.

She’ll be performing from Parton’s back catalogue and telling stories during two, back-to-back, intimate ‘‘tiny room’’ shows at Arrowtown’s Blue Door.

‘‘I have written Dolly myself … some [of the stories] are about Dolly, some about me, some about me and Dolly — but I’ve only seen her once, in Auckland,’’ Stephenson says.

Raised on a Lincolnshire farm in England, Stephenson trained as a primary school teacher and now works as a school social worker.

When she arrived in Queenstown in 2007, show biz wasn’t even a hobby.

But then she met the doyenne of Queenstown theatre, Margaret O’Hanlon, and began reaching for the stars.

She’s now a familiar face on Queenstown stages, performing with Remarkable Theatre, Showbiz Queenstown and O’Hanlon’s company, Whirlwind Productions, which has created a series of tiny room concerts over the next two months.

Stephenson says Parton’s wonderful because she is ‘‘something for everyone’’, and professes to love everything about the country singer — and godmother to pop star Miley Cyrus — including her business ethics, glam and humour.

Stephenson credits her father’s limited musical taste for sowing the seeds of her appreciation.

‘‘I was about five- or six-years-old and we had two cassette tapes in our car, and one of them was Dolly Parton.

‘‘There was a picture of a very glam, buxom woman on the front, and I couldn’t believe we would be allowed to listen to her,’’ Stephenson recalls.

The other tape was by folk rock group Steeleye Span — her family endlessly rotated the two tapes on trips around the countryside.

Over the years, Stephenson’s followed Parton through all her personas and albums.

She learned piano for a short time, enjoyed doing skits with her family and sung at church, but felt quite shy, so it wasn’t till O’Hanlon encouraged her that she began to perform.

‘‘She taught me the basics and I caught the bug …

‘‘I don’t look like Dolly,and I don’t sound like Dolly.

‘‘We are absolutely different, but we both grew up in the back of beyond and both have really strong family … so I feel very, very connected,’’ Stephenson says.

While she’s unlikely to follow Parton’s lead and make frequent costume changes during the 60-minute shows, ‘‘I will try to look as glittery and rhinestone-covered as possible’’.

Performing in ‘Hello Dolly’ with Stephenson at the Blue Door will be lead guitarist Jonny Chan, vocalist Nicole McLean and slide guitarist Ollie McLean.

Hello Dolly, Arrowtown’s Blue Door, October 1, 6.30pm and 9pm. 50-person capacity, tickets $13.95, via eventbrite.co.nz