By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight. ca
Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living….
“It’s joyful, it’s funny, it’s absolutely a revenge story!” says director Rachel Peake of the musical comedy that opens this week at the Citadel, after a week’s COVID-ian delay.
“And at the same time 9 to 5 looks at important issues about what it means to be a working woman, a working mother … and the challenges of the glass ceiling and the old boys’ club.”
The 2008 musical based on the hit 1980 movie (starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton), three office workies, fed up past the point of no return by their autocratic, sexist lech of a boss, dream of revenge and together hatch a plot to take him down. Things go wrong and (no spoiler here) things go right, in gratifying ways.
The film was born from an activist impulse. Explains Peake, the associate artistic director of Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre (last here to direct The Garneau Block and Hiraeth), it was inspired “by a coalition of office workers in the ‘70s, bonding to apply the strength-in-numbers concept (on behalf of) women working in offices, to improve working conditions. And Jane Fonda the activist was involved…. It was ‘let’s make a movie that will help the cause. And let’s make it a comedy so people will want to see it!’”
The songs are all Dolly Parton, some written especially for the stage version, set in 1979, that arrived on Broadway in 2009. And like their appealing creator, a COVID hero, they have a diverse cross-genre bounce to them. Country, yes, but Parton was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this past week, over-ruling her own objections that she wasn’t really a rock star.
But 9 to 5, says Peake, “is absolutely a musical theatre piece…. lots of up-tempo songs, catchy like 9 to 5, but also beautiful ballads, and a couple of really strong power songs,” like Get Out And Stay Out that Judy (Fonda in the film, Patricia Zentilli in the Citadel production) delivers in Act II. Janice Flower leads the musical forces, with a five-piece rock band.
“She says she doesn’t engage in politics, which isn’t completely true,” says Peake, musing on Parton’s diverse evergreen appeal. “But it means she avoids certain conversations on hot-button topics” that would align her with one camp or another in a ferociously partisan America. “She side-steps, usually with a joke. And that keeps everyone open as a possible fan…. She doesn’t shut anyone out.” She has country music fans, she has Christian music fans, she has a large queer following. “Everyone feels she’s approachable; she’s unpolarizing.”
As Doralee, Parton’s stand-in in 9 to 5 (Julia McLellan in Peake’s production), sings in Backwoods Barbie, “don’t judge me by the cover ‘cause I’m a real good book.” It comes from the archive of Parton witticisms that includes such memorable observations as this: “although I look like a drag queen’s Christmas tree on the outside, I am at at heart a simple country girl.” Or “I’m not offended by the dumb blonde jokes because I know I’m not dumb. And I’m not blonde either.”
There’s still a conversation to be had about working conditions for women. As Peake says, “the statistics are pretty intense. Globally, one in 17 CEOs are women; in Canada women make 87 cents on the dollar (made by men).”
But in 9 to 5, “it’s done with such love.” The heroes of 9 to 5 are women, to be sure. “But there are so many great parts for the guys, too — a villain yes, but allies too. By no means is it anti-man,” Peake laughs. “It’s anti-a certain kind of man!”
9 to 5
Written by: Patricia Resnick (book) and Dolly Parton (music and lyrics)
Starring: Julia McLellan, Sharon Crandall, Patricia Zentilli, Kristin Johnston, Juan Chioran, Andrew MacDonald-Smith, Stephanie Wolfe, Jeremy Carver-James
Running: through May 29
Tickets: 780-425-1820, citadeltheatre.com