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What a way to make a living
9 to 5 the musical at The Fort Wayne Civic Theatre
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
Back in 1980, the movie 9 to 5 was not only a box office success but one of those cultural phenomena that seems to take on a life far beyond its relatively modest beginnings. A workplace comedy about three mistreated women who get even with their “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” of a boss, the movie was talked about, written about, and became an almost iconic feminist statement.
Of course, as feminist statements go, 9 to 5 is hardly Andrea Dworkin. And as celluloid feminist revenge fantasies go, it’s not I Spit on Your Grave either. 9 to 5 is, above all else, a comedy. But underpinning the laughs was a story that had something to say about the opportunities (or lack of them) facing women in the male-dominated world of business, all during a time before the phrase “glass ceiling” even existed.
The stage version of 9 to 5 — beginning its run at the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre on Saturday November 9 — came along in 2008, and it’s a full-blown musical, with words and music by Dolly Parton, who starred in the film and wrote/sang the memorable title song, and a book by Patricia Resnick, one of the original screenwriters.
While some of the issues 9 to 5 the movie addressed are still with us, things have changed enough so that putting it in our current decade would change the story too much. So 9 to 5 the musical doesn’t even try. It’s set in 1979. “It’s a period piece,” says director Dianne B Shaw. “I think it’s still relevant, some of it, but there’s no question it’s a period piece.”
Shaw went so far as to give some of the younger members of her cast a brief history lesson to try to put things in perspective, and talk about the cultural differences between 30 plus years ago and now. “You really could get your butt pinched,” she laughs. “There was no such thing as sexual harassment. And it also wouldn’t be that unusual for a woman to come right out of high school and get married — that’s the situation of Judy in the play.”
Shaw adds that the play does an excellent job of giving a knowing wink to the audience while keeping its characters relatively innocent, something she credits to Parton’s lyrics. “I think it’s that southern charm,” she says. “You can say almost anything and get away with it.”
But whatever years the story is set in, there’s a timelessness about the three main characters and the problems they face. Lindsay Hoops plays Judy, a young woman forced to find a job after her husband leaves her for his secretary. Hoops performed at the Civic in Les Miserables (“I wanted to be in something a little… lighter after that,” she laughs), and says that she had to adjust a little after initially playing Judy a little too contemporary. “Dianne (Shaw) told me that Judy would be much more respectful towards men rather than cheeky. She said ‘you might think it, but you have to tone it down a little bit’.”
Not new to the workforce is Violet, a very competent and business-savvy woman constantly undermined — and ripped-off — by her boss Frank Hart (Kent Bixler). “Violet is a single mother of a teenage boy, trying to juggle her responsibilities and also work her way up the corporate ladder, so to speak,” actress Aimee Lackey says of her role. Shaw’s brief history lesson wasn’t really news to Lackey, but the play, as well as being funny, offers a positive message. It’s not all about these women “getting back” at their boss. “The essential ingredient of the show are these three women banding together and leading an uprising in their office,” says Lackey, who was in The Drowsy Chaperone earlier this year. “No one in that office is treated well under Frank Hart, and they make things better for everyone there.”
Rounding out the trio of female leads is Doralee (Meagan Solloway), Frank Hart’s long-suffering secretary and object of his unrequited lust. Though Doralee is a good-hearted family woman, she arouses the resentment of the office after Hart gives everyone the impression they’re having an affair.
So, you’ve got the abused underling, the exploited career woman, and the objectified nice lady — and the cause of their resentment is their boss Frank Hart, who is, to put it simply, an irredeemable pig. He’s also a blast to play, according to Kent Bixler. “I’m having a great time with it,” says Bixler, who was also in Les Mis this past summer. “You can really get into this character, because… well, he’s just a mean SOB. He’s the typical corporate climber who thinks women are there to be subservient.”
“If people pretty much hate me by the end of the show,” he adds, “I’ve done my job.” Hart is abetted in his crimes by Roz (Julie Donnell), his spy and toady.
As we said, the music and lyrics are by Dolly Parton, and during the initial run of the stage version of 9 to 5 back in 2008, it was the tunes that received the biggest accolades from the critics. Musically 9 to 5 covers the spectrum of American pop music — ballads, jazzier numbers, country and Broadway-worthy show tunes.
And while the lyrics make sly references to wage disparity, workplace sexism, and the cultural attitudes between “then” and “now”… it’s all grist for the comedy mill. “It’s a comedy. It’s fun. We should all love to hate Frank Hart,” says Dianne Shaw. “No one should come out of that show thinking seriously about ‘equal pay for equal work.’ They should all be too busy tapping their feet and laughing.”
The Fort Wayne Civic Theatre presents 9 to 5
Arts United Center
303 East Main Street
Saturdays, November 9, 16 and 23 at 8 PM
Sundays, November 10, 17 and 24 at 2 PM
Fridays, November 15 and 22 at 8 PM
Tickets: $26/adults; $15/age 23 and under; $22/Sunday senior matinees
Box Office: (260) 424.5220 or online: fwcivic.org