Last week, a couple of us lucky SCS girls had the rare opportunity to partake in a piece of popular culture that existed before we were even born. The four-time Tony Award nominated tour of 9 to 5: The Musical had just blown into Chicago, and we got to see it on the most special and crucial of nights—Dolly Parton's birthday!
But before we get to all that, for anyone who may have forgotten the story behind the original 1980 film hit, starring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, the story of "9 to 5" centered around a bustling office in a man's world where the women are subjected to getting the coffee, typing endless memos and being subjected to sexual harassment from their male superiors.
That all changes, however, when a 15- year office vet, a blonde bombshell and a jittery newcomer get together to change the climate of their 9 to 5 work lives by carefully and craftily kidnapping their chauvinistic boss. Needless to say, once he's discovered the positive changes to the office have already been made and each of the women in the trifecta are able to enjoy their own significant victory, both personally and professionally.
This charming and hilarious, if not glaringly real account of the women's work world at the time was resurrected decades later when Patricia Resnick (co-writer of the original screenplay) and Dolly Parton, star of the movie and creator of the original hit title song, got back together to put their timeless story to music. Parton signed on as composer and lyricist of what would become 9 to 5: The Musical.
The touring company that visited Chicago last week boasted an impressive creative team including the Tony nominated choreographer Jeff Calhoun, Tony award winning costume designer William Ivey Long and award-winning musical supervisor Ken Billington.
As for the cast, the avenging trio of heroines was played superbly by both veterans and newcomers to the stage. Tony nominated Broadway regular Dee Hoty played Lily's Tomlin's levelheaded and maternal yet often sarcastic Violet Newstead. Mamie Parris' golden voice belted out the ballads assigned to Jane Fonda's jumpy Judy Bernly, the new to the office secretary whose husband left her for his own secretary (but who later blows him off when he comes crawling back).
And it's none other than 23-year old Diana Degarmo, runner-up of the third season of "American Idol", who pays homage to Dolly Parton's original Doralee Rhodes. Degarmo shines as the squeaky-voiced, well-endowed hottie who all the other secretaries resent at first but eventually wins them all over with her smile and her big, er, heart. And finally, Joseph Mahowald became Franklin Hart, Jr., the boss that everyone loved to hate, from smoking cigars with his colleagues to chasing Doralee around his office. We were all happy to see him get exactly what he deserved by the end.
The music was the extra cherry on this already indulgent story. The singing and dancing added depth the the characters and the plot and allowed the audience to become deeply moved and involved with the women's struggles, then victories. All three main female characters had voices perfected the voices and mannerisms of their famous characters, and even old Franklin Hart had an impressive vibrato as he sang out about his yearnings for Doralee. And a rousing ensemble delighted in a burst of movement, color and harmony.
And don't think we forgot about the special guest of honor. That's right: Dolly Parton herself was at the show, having chosen to celebrate her birthday with Chicago! Governor Pat Quinn introduced the legendary star before the performance, gave her a special award and announced January 19 as Chicago's official Dolly Parton day. After the show she came back to thank us once again and the audience got to sing Happy Birthday to Dolly Parton in all her spangled glory (!) before the cast surprised her with a birthday cake. Dolly was a picture of girlish kindness, gratitude and bright pink sequins and we were just so delighted that we got to see all of it— the amazing show and her—firsthand. Truly, 9 to 5: The Musical was a treat to experience.
9 to 5: The Musical runs until January 30, 2011 at the Bank of America Theatre. Individual tickets are on sale now at all Broadway in Chicago Box Offices (24 W. Randolph St., 151 W. Randolph St., 18 W. Monroe St., and 175 E. Chestnut St.), the Broadway in Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775-2000 or by visiting www.9to5themusical.com or www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
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