It began in 1980 as a movie, and was re-imagined 28 years later for the Broadway stage. Now, “9 to 5 the Musical” comes to Killeen’s Vive Les Arts Theatre with composer and lyricist Dolly Parton’s country-flavored set of songs that complement her title tune.
At an evening rehearsal, the cast is slouched comfortably in chairs on the bare VLA stage as musical director Jim Wrex leads the ensemble through one of the 18 songs listed in the score. Yessica Lookman, in perpetual motion at the piano, accompanies the singers as they learn the correct notes. Director Charlotte O’Brien sits quietly a few rows from the front with her ever-present clipboard and script.
“9 to 5,” set in the 1970s, is the story of three female co-workers who join forces and devise a plan to get even with their lying, hypocritical, sexist and egotistical boss, who is, of course, a man. They work together to take control of the company, learning that there’s nothing they can’t do — even in a man’s world.
Reviews of the musical have been mixed, with Variety’s verdict typical of the critical ambivalence: “An uneven cut-and-
paste job that struggles to recapture the movie’s giddy estrogen rush; plenty of folks will nonetheless find this a nostalgic crowd-pleaser.” Many have praised Parton and her songs as “the real star of the show.”
VLA veteran Hayley Dugger, playing Doralee Rhodes, said that the VLA production “is really close to the movie script. I wasn’t born yet when the movie first came out, but I saw it in college and thought it was really funny.”
Audiences across America have agreed; “9 to 5 the Musical” received 15 Drama Desk nominations and four Tony Award nominations. The U.S. tour took place in 2010-2011 and a U.K. roadshow debuted in 2012, finishing last month.
Rehearsals have ranged from the rather sedate to a full-scale tying and flying of the boss man, played by Nate Thobaben. The female employees string him up with a garage door opener and he goes up in the air — a technical challenge that requires a larger-than-normal backstage crew, O’Brien said. In addition to the five-to-seven-person tech crew, conductor Wrex will play trombone and lead the other six musicians who make up the “9 to 5” orchestra.
With a total of 29 actors, including VLA returnee Debbie Cable Brown in the lead role of Violet Newstead, the big production numbers should fill the stage and please audiences.
When asked about the PG-13 rating, O’Brien cites “some language and content.”
Is this play, described as a “feminist revenge story” by the N.Y. Times, a bit past its prime? “It doesn’t feel dated,” Dugger said. “Yes, the world’s completely changed, but it’s a really big message. All three women, completely different, stick together and overcome — it’s about empowerment.”