Jolly Affair

There isn’t a more heartwarming pair than Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. Two icons in country music who are each beloved by fans and only increased their popularity when performing together.

Rogers appeared on Parton’s variety show “Dolly” and they sang several duets together, including their No. 1 hit “Islands in the Stream.” They also recorded a Christmas album together in 1984, “Once Upon a Christmas,” which is certified double platinum. This album is the inspiration behind the Kenny & Dolly Christmas Tribute, which comes to the Riverside Resort Nov. 23-26.

Much like the originals whom they portray, Wendy T and Dave Karl have a long friendship and working relationship. Their playful chemistry flows on stage just like Rogers and Parton.

“Wendy is a sweetheart, I just love her dearly,” Karl said. “We’ve been working together now for 12-14 years. We have so much fun because we do that bit of bantering that Kenny and Dolly always did. Every time we get onstage, it’s not just recreating an act that once was, the audience is watching us have fun at the same time.”

Karl and Wendy now both live in the heart of Dolly country, the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. However, they actually first met at a show in Wisconsin.

“Dave was a keyboard player in a band that was backing me up with a different Kenny Rogers,” Wendy recalled. “It was a gig in Madison, Wisconsin, and the band was out of Chicago and he was the keyboard player and he happened to sound just like Kenny Rogers. So he talked to the Kenny Rogers that I was working with at the time and then he got into it. I work with a lot of Kenny Rogers, but Dave is the best sound-alike ever.”

Back in Chicago, Karl started his career as a Rogers tribute after singing his songs on karaoke.

“I started doing a karaoke show and I would tuck myself in between singers every now and then,” Karl said. “One of my favorite artists of all time was Kenny Rogers so I would always sing Kenny songs. I had so many people come up and tell me, ‘You know you sound so much like Kenny when you’re singing.’ So finally I decided to take it a step further and jump in character as Kenny and sing as him.”

Wendy got into the tribute business as a Reba act with Legends in Concert in Las Vegas. Then she branched out and began doing a Parton impersonation in the show as well.

“I fell in love with impersonating and I always loved Dolly and her music,” Wendy said. “I didn’t think I’d be able to do her look, so I went to a drag queen and they taught me all the makeup and secrets of doing Dolly. I married a guy who is from the Smokey Mountains and I live here now in Morristown, Tennessee, and everybody talks with the heavy Southern accent so I got better and better at the accent. Dolly has kind of a lilt to her voice, it goes up and down and then she has that cute little laugh.”

Wendy has portrayed Parton at the famous Memories Theatre in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, but no matter where she performs the reception is always the same.

“The great thing about doing Dolly is, you walk out on the stage and people already love her,” Wendy said. “Everybody knows who she is and there is that universal love. She’s such a humanitarian and she does so much for the community here and has her Imagination Library program giving out books to children and she’s just lovable. It’s wonderful to be able to play such a loved character.”

Rogers is also a lovable guy and Karl had the pleasure of meeting him before his passing in 2020.

“I think it was in 2015 and I was living in Arizona,” Karl said. “I heard he was coming to Phoenix to sing with the symphony, so I contacted his office in Nashville and they knew who I was so they sent me directions on what to do when we went to the theater to see Kenny. I did not go there in character but I showed him a picture of what I do and he studied it and then he looked up at me and said, ‘Don’t go gettin’ me in any trouble.’ We got to chat for another five minutes or so. He was such a nice guy. I was so thankful for the opportunity to meet him.”

Karl has worked as Rogers all across the country, as a Kenny and Dolly duet and in his solo show, with different variations.

“I love doing the Kenny and Dolly show but I can do a full Kenny show if they want,” he said. “Kenny Rogers is my own natural voice, which really makes it easy for me to do it, because I don’t have to alter my voice to impersonate him.

“However, I’ve played around with voices all my life. I used to watch a program called ‘Copycats’ and I used to pick up on a lot of impersonations that way. I’m up to like 65 different voices that I can actually do. So I can do a full Kenny solo show, but the one that I truly enjoy doing I call Kenny and Friends on Tour. So if it’s a 75-minute show, I’ll do 45 minutes of Kenny and then come back on stage as myself and do a lot of other impersonations and incorporate that with comedy. I’ll do like George Jones, Roger Miller, I do an Elvis and Willie comedy bit, John Conlee, Marty Robbins and others.”

Karl and Wendy have performed in Laughlin before in their Kenny & Dolly In Harmony show, but this will be the first time they bring the Christmas show to town.

“I think they have decorated the stage and there’s going to be snow,” Wendy said. “Kenny and Dolly had a full Christmas album together, so we’re doing two songs off the album and we’re also doing ‘Mary, Did You Know?’ that he did with Wynonna, but I’m going to be doing it as Dolly because it’s such a great song we had to put it in. I’m doing ‘Holly Jolly Christmas,’ ‘Hard Candy Christmas,’ and he’s doing ‘Oh Holy Night’ and ‘White Christmas.’ Then we’ll play all the hits of course. I’m doing ‘9 to 5,’ ‘Jolene’ — all the good stuff. He’ll be doing ‘Ruby,’ ‘The Gambler’ and ‘Lady.’”

Wendy said her favorite Parton song to sing is actually one of her Christmas tunes.

“Believe it or not, it’s ‘Hard Candy Christmas,’” she said. “It’s just so haunting that melody. That was written for ‘The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,’ which I’ve played the lead in that as Dolly at a dinner theater in Illinois. That song is from that musical.”

Both performers are excited to be back playing at Don’s Celebrity Theatre.

“We have such a great time at the Riverside,” Wendy said. “What a wonderful theater — that is such a nice place. The band is always top-notch. It will be fun for all ages.”

“I’m looking forward to getting back to the Riverside casino,” Karl added. “Don Laughlin is such a great guy. I’m just excited to be back there and see familiar faces once again.”