"9 to 5: The Musical" Opens January 20 at the Landers

Jan 14, 2017

Dolly Parton wrote the music and lyrics for "9 to 5: The Musical," which opens January 20th at Springfield Little Theatre at the Landers.
Credit (Poster design courtesy Springfield Little Theatre)

Springfield Little Theatre’s first production of 2017 is “9 to 5: The Musical” at the Landers Theatre, 311 E. Walnut, running January 20 to February 5.  LT’s longtime Scenic Designer/Tech Director Chuck Rogers is directing the show, featuring a book by Patricia Resnick, and music and lyrics by none other than Dolly Parton herself, who was one of the three stars of the popular 20th-Century Fox movie comedy on which this stage show is based.

I offered the opinion that the movie’s major point was to strike a blow for women in the workplace and overcoming the corporate “glass ceiling”, and Chuck Rogers expanded on that idea. “It was a tremendous blow for women in the workplace, and I think that it really started to change a lot of minds”—even given the wild, farcical plot. “When you look at those iconic characters—all three of the women that starred in that film, Lily Tomlin (as Violet Newstead), Jane Fonda (as Judy Bernly) and Dolly Parton (as Doralee Rhodes), the success that they’ve gone on to.  We’ve grown up with them: ‘How would Violet handle this situation? How would Judy or Doralee handle it?’

“The interesting thing we’re finding,” adds Rogers, “is how relevant the show is now. There are still many of the same issues in the workplace: issues of sexual harassment, issues of how people are treated.” The stage adaptation does not update the setting of the original movie: we’re still firmly in the corporate world of 1979.

Cast in LT’s production are Kris Langston as Violet and Savannah Gibbons as Judy, both of whom Rogers brought to the studio with him.  Doralee is played by Logan Schoessel, who Rogers says LT audiences will remember from “Little Shop of Horrors.”   Savannah Gibbons describes Judy Bernly as “very new to this whole work environment—she’s never really had a job before, she’s been very dependent on her husband, so she’s walking into a very new situation, naïve and unsure of what’s going to happen.  And through these other two women, Violet and Doralee, she really finds herself and finds her place in the world.”

Violet Newstead is a veteran of the corporate wars. Kris Langston notes that Violet “has been passed over multiple times for a promotion”—basically because she’s a woman.  “It’s the old boys’ club.”  In fact, the stage version actually has what’s called a “boys’ club,” says director Chuck Rogers. “It’s just a group of guys who are always coming out and supporting the villain, Mr. Hart, who’s the big, bad boss.”

Franklin Hart Jr., played in this LT production by Ryan Mattix, is a “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” who gets his comeuppance from the three women who have been pushed to the boiling point.  After a misunderstanding involving the accidental (well, unconscious, anyway) substitution of rat poison for coffee sweetener at the office, the women kidnap Hart and keep him restrained while they give the office a dream makeover... basically taking over the company that’s always kept them down.

Dolly Parton’s presence isn’t felt only in the music and song lyrics, either, says Chuck Rogers. “We actually have Dolly commenting on things—the royalty company has provided videos of Dolly. So we actually have her ‘there’ with us (during the show).  The purpose of it is for Dolly to comment on the action, and to set up the fact that we are going back to 1979.  These are contemporary videos.  So she tries to link the current world with the past, so that she provides kind of a bridge for the audience to filter the show through.”

I told them I was having trouble imagining what kind of music Franklin Hart would sing.  As Chuck Rogers describes it, “it’s kind of a fantasy song.  Doralee is in his office taking dictation... and Doralee/Dolly Parton is always wearing tight dresses and, uh, showing off her upper half quite a bit. And Mr. Hart is singing about what he wishes he would be able to do!  And it’s really funny.”

Dabney Coleman didn’t have the luxury of this sort of “interior monologue” in the movie version!  That’s the great thing about stage musicals.  Chuck Rogers feels that one of the major techniques Dolly Parton used to convert the film into a musical was through the incorporation of various fantasy sequences so that we can “get into the minds” of the characters. He adds that Ryan Mattix, a veteran of many Landers Theatre shows, “is trying to channel Dabney Coleman. And Ryan does a great job of living that role!” 

The stage version hues closely to the movie script and plot, says Kris Langston.  “The audience will see a lot of what they expect to see when they think of ‘9 to 5’: line references and action.” Adds Chuck Rogers, “it is just like the film—with music.  ” That includes Violet’s “gruesome” but “cute” fantasy about doing in Mr. Hart as a Snow White-type character accompanied by adorable animated birds and other woodland creatures.  “We do that too!” says Chuck Rogers. “There are some furry creatures, yes,” adds Kris Langston.  And of course, being a stage musical, there will be dance sequences as well, as well as video projections to help tell the story. “It’s a great way to use our ensemble.  We have sexy gondoliers who dance with Judy, we have cowgirls that dance with Doralee,” according to Rogers. 

He’s joined behind the scenes by Chyrel Love Miller and Susan Gravatt as choreographer and musical director respective.  “What’s wonderful about Chyrel and Susan and myself working together as a team is that we’ve worked together for so long, and we all come from that early ‘80s era at MSU Tent Theatre and early Landers shows.  And to be able to go back and pull all that back together—Chyrel has even raided her closet. Those of you that know Chyrel Miller know that she is famous for her clothes. And she’s brought in some wonderful outfits,” Rogers says with a laugh. “But Kris Haik, our costumer, has done a tremendously successful job of recreating 1979 fashions.”

After opening Friday January 20, “9 to 5 The Musical” will run Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm.  LT is trying out an earlier start time for the Sunday matinees this season, and Chuck Rogers reports that audiences have responded quite positively. Tickets range from $12-$30. For more information or to reserve tickets, visit www.springfieldlittletheatre.org or call 869-1334.