It was 1980 when the movie 9to5 was released. It was viewed as a venue for country singer Dolly Parton at the time and did surprisingly well, $3.9 million on opening weekend.
Part of the reason that it succeeded was the downright quirky casting of feminist Jane Fonda, comedian Lily Tomlin and the effervescent Parton as the three working women who brought down their “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical, bigot” of a boss, Franklin Hart, Jr., as played by the despicable Dabney Coleman.
The other reason was because the timing was exquisite. The second wave of feminism was at its crest and 9to5 was an easily-digested protest against the many male chauvinists of the world. Almost thirty years later, in 2009, the musical version of 9to5 premiered for a short stay on Broadway with songs written by Dolly Parton.
That brings us now, once again, to CenterStage. The musical retains the central theme of the movie: Three much-abused women, Violet Newstead, played by Julie McGuffey; Doralee Rhodes, played by Jessica Adamson, and Judy Bernly, played by Lauren McCombs, plot the demise of their clueless boss, Franklin Hart, Jr. campily played in fine style by Rusty Henle with a look back at the 1980s, when many men still acted like it was the 1950’s and many women weren’t going to take it any more.
The reason the movie worked was because of a feminist movie star, an iconic singer and a memorable comedian. The reason the CenterStage musical works is because of the three core female characters and the choreography that gives them a context to vent their simple message: We’re smarter than our clueless boss and we can sure as heck run a company better than he can.
To be specific, the talents of the core female characters shine when they enact a series of murderous fantasies which involve their boss. McCombs as Judy does the “Dance of Death” with Mr. Hart; Adamson as Doralee executes the “Cowgirls revenge”; and McGuffey, as Violet, takes Snow White to a new manic level in “Potion Notion.” All three are extremely talented and up to the task of carrying the weight of the female working world as represented in 9to5: The Musical.
This is entertainment with a gentle bite and underlying it all is the question: has 35 years made a difference? The answer is that we can shake our heads in wonder at the technological advances we have made and recognize Franklin Hart, Jr. as the pig that he most certainly is, but we also realize that we have a long way to go to a place where women won’t just strive to be “One of the Boys” as Violet sings at the beginning of the Second Act but, as our Constitution phrases it, one of “we, the people.” Right on! as they used to say in the eighties.
Next up is Oliver! October 22-November 8. Season tickets are going fast!