One of my absolute favorite things to do at Dollywood is to head to The Village section of the park to watch Heartsong: The Movie in the Heartsong Theater. In fact, I would say that it’s the best 20-minute break you can take during an adventurous day in the park!
The film features Dolly Parton taking guests on a virtual journey through her beloved Smoky Mountains. With Dolly as your guide, you’ll experience the mountains in all of their awe and wonder. Part of the experience of the film is the unique outdoor atmosphere felt inside of the theatre. You’ll enjoy the sensation of the changing seasons, the serenity of a mountain rainstorm and the comfort felt from the warmth of the Smoky Mountain people–rooted deep in tradition, faith and love.
The short film recently celebrated its 25th anniversary with a little bit of a makeover. The film was restored and is now presented in high definition. Even the foliage and greenery along the interior were replaced to enhance the ambient environment.
Originally created for the 1994 season, Heartsong was the park’s first multi-sensory, multi-dimensional theatrical show that featured specially-created animation, live performers and sensory experiences through theatrical lighting and stage effects. The production used new and classic Dolly songs to tell her heart-strung regional stories.
The creative concept was simple, Dolly wanted her guests to see how God and the mountains had impacted her journey. Dolly was hands-on when it came to song selection, narration and the overall creative process. The movie was filmed near Dollywood and at Dolly’s childhood home. In addition to using some of the park’s performers, one of Dolly’s nieces appeared as a “Smoky Mountain girl” experiencing a special walk with her beau.
The 325-seat theatre was originally built to house live stage shows as well as special events. The exterior resembles a structure you’d find in the quiet countryside, while the lobby is decorated like a turn-of-the-century Victorian farmhouse. Once inside, guests sit comfortably on padded benches in a climate-controlled venue that looks and feels like you are sitting in the middle of a beautiful country meadow.
Having been a Dollywood fanatic—uh… regular guest—for many years now, I’ve seized the opportunities to listen to stories from park Hosts who have, in turn, personally inspired me in my own endeavors. One of those “inspirers” is an usher named Bonnie. Nearly 30 years ago she began her story at Dollywood selling lye soap in one of the park shops. When Heartsong Theatre opened, she soon became one of the show’s ushers. Today, well, she’s more like a grandmotherly-historian. She recently told me that she was excited to be going back to work this spring, because she is bored at home. Explaining that she never gets bored while at Dollywood, she said that the Heartsong movie has never lost its excitement for her or for park guests. Bonnie loves seeing the enjoyment it brings. I asked her what one of her favorite memories was and she said, “When I turned 90, Dolly sent me an autographed photo.” My reply? “Ninety? Well, how old are you?” I know, that’s a rude question to ask a lady, but I also knew she wouldn’t mind. She answered, “I’ll be 93 this spring.” 93?? No way! She drives further than an hour each way to work, then she walks from to the theater in The Village where she proudly takes her post with the other Heartsong ushers. Maybe that’s how she stays so young!?! Still a little shocked by her age (for one, she doesn’t look it) I asked, why do you do it? Her reply, “Dollywood is the grandest place you can be!” I agree. So, if for no other reason, you should visit Heartsong to meet Bonnie and for a lesson in history! Bonnie can tell you many great stories about the park.
Of course, Bonnie is not the only usher there. Just like in all of Dollywood’s theatres, there are friendly ushers at each show who are gifted in hospitality, who love to share the stories of the mountains, and who are always ready to help guests with tips on the best seats in the house or where to park your stroller.
A friend recently told me that watching the movie Heartsong helped her understand who Dolly is and what Dollywood is all about. It’s a “must see” for first-timers as you take a trip back to the country with Dolly as your guide—you’ll especially enjoy the thrilling horse-pulled carriage that takes you to an old-fashioned hoe-down with ole Apple Jack!
Heartsong: The Movie is enjoyable for all ages. So, sit back, relax, sing-along if you want to but make sure to take it all in. You won’t regret it. Trust me!