Tennessee’s favorite daughter Dolly Parton’s spirit can be felt in every scene and every song—heck, every moment—of 9 to 5: The Musical, now playing at Clarksville’s Roxy Regional Theatre through October 13. In fact, her very heartbeat reverberates throughout the fun, fast-paced musical diversion that is fairly faithful to the movie upon which it is based. And much like Dolly herself, there’s a lot of campy flash to be found in 9 to 5: The Musical, but at its core it is a genuinely felt, warmly conveyed story of aspirational hope and glory.
Starring Amanda Morgan, Lital Abrahams and Broadway veteran Bailey Hanks in the roles originated by Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Parton herself in the 1980 film, 9 to 5: The Musical provides the perfect vehicle for a musical score composed by Dolly herself, who may well be the most successful woman ever in country music. Her Tony Award-nominated score proves that Dolly is a gifted musical theater tunesmith, writing songs that do what showtunes should do: move the plot forward and express the characters' larger than life thoughts and dreams – the stuff of which Dolly's very own career is made.
Using Patricia Resnick’s updated script from the show’s national tour—she also penned the original screenplay for the film—9 to 5: The Musical at The Roxy delves deeper into what makes the characters tick, focusing on their humanity to make the show a universal tale about workers’ rights and the burgeoning women’s movement of 1979. 9 to 5: The Musical makes no pretensions about being anything other than what it is—which is great fun!—nor does it aspire to be some sort of life-changing, high-falutin’ art. Rather, the musical succeeds with its middlebrow goals of entertaining people and gettin’ butts in the seats.
Directed and staged by Tom Thayer, with choreography by Jessica Davidson, the Roxy’s 9 to 5 features an appearance by Dolly Parton herself—in video form, she opens and closes the show just as she did for the national tour—and you can’t for a second forget that it’s her vision you’re seeing onstage (and thanks to Hanks’ stellar portrayal of Doralee Rhodes, her onstage doppelganger keeps her planted firmly in your mind).
The story hews closely to what you’ll remember from the movie, so there’s nothing to disappoint fans of that iconic film comedy. Violet (Morgan), Judy (Abrahams) and Doralee (Hanks) work for the bigoted, sexist Franklin Hart Jr. (played with relish by Colin Ryan) at Consolidated Industries, one of those all-encompassing, multi-national corporations that give multi-national corporations—and the people who run them—a bad name. Violet’s been working for “the man” for years, virtually running the whole operation, but because she is a woman she gets short shrift when it’s time for career advancement. Judy’s newly divorced and forced to fend for herself for the first time in her life. And Doralee’s a buxom Texan with platinum hair, with a brain much more developed than workplace stereotypes will allow.
When Violet accidently pours rat poison into Hart’s coffee, the three women hatch a plot to remain free from arrest, to hold onto their jobs and to improve workplace conditions for everyone at the office. For the plan to succeed, however, they must hold Hart hostage in his own home, ship off the pesky office brown-nose Roz to Denver for a month-long French language immersion course and figure out how Hart has managed to bilk millions from the company’s coffers. It’s all just another day at the office, right?
As farfetched as it may sound, it’s perfectly plausible in Resnick’s creative treatment and, thanks to Parton’s score, the action moves along at a tuneful pace while the characters express themselves vividly in song. Opening with the title tune—“9 to 5”—which sets your feet to tapping along with enthusiasm, the score features the appropriate-for-country-radio “Backwoods Barbie” (performed with heartrending poignancy by Hanks), the show-stopping second act “One of the Boys” (which gives Morgan an opportunity to cavort about the stage, backed by four handsome men) and the powerful anthem “Get Out and Stay Out” (Abrahams’ performance is certain to bring down the house). Let’s face it: Dolly Parton is an amazingly gifted artist who understands the power of musical theater to transform and transport its audiences.