Dolly Parton, the internationally acclaimed country singer and songwriter whose songs have crossed genres, confessed that she's not an expert in the history of Broadway musicals. But that didn't stop the Tennessee-born legend from jumping — with both boots — into writing the score of 9 to 5: The Musical.
"I've never seen that many Broadway musicals," the twangy and ever-upbeat Parton told PlaybillRadio.com's Robert Viagas on July 15. "A lot of the stuff I have seen has been in movies, like 'Oklahoma!,' or 'State Fair,' stuff like that…stuff that you see on TV or you watch in the movies. It wasn't a world that I knew… I think I absorbed just enough of the things that I had seen through the years to know how to make it bigger or littler — the dynamics of [musical storytelling]. So I knew just enough, but not enough to screw me up!"
She may be a Broadway newcomer, but she has the advantage of returning to familiar territory: Parton starred as country-girl executive assistant Doralee in the 1980 movie comedy on which the show is based, so she knows the story and characters intimately.
9 to 5: The Musical will begin Broadway previews March 24, 2009, at the Marriott Marquis Theatre following a Sept. 3-Oct. 19 tryout at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. Joe Mantello directs a cast that includes Stephanie J. Block, Megan Hilty, Allison Janney and Marc Kudisch. Of the Broadway process, Parton admitted, "I was kinda scared of it…I thought, 'This is a whole different world to me. I hear these people can just eat you up alive.' And I thought, 'Well, I'm not one to be eaten alive without kickin' and a-fightin'!'"
Parton said that part of the writing process involved simply trusting her collaborators, who have had success with musicals before. Mantello directed a little show called Wicked, for example, which had musical direction by 9 to 5 music supervisor Stephen Oremus.
"I was more than happy to adjust and adapt to anything they needed me to change," she said. "I didn't take that as an insult as a writer. I thought, 'Well, this is what they do — they should know.' And I certainly can change it, I can write on my feet, y'know. They were impressed 'cause I'd never done [this] before. I was kinda proud of myself, 'cause I didn't know that I could do it at all."
|photo by Justin Stephens|
Parton's writing partner on 9 to 5: The Musical is Patricia Resnick, the screenwriter of the original film. How did they work together? Resnick explained, "I went through my movie script, and I tried to turn it into some sort of a book, and I indicated places I thought songs might go. Then [producer] Bob Greenblatt and I sat down, and he had some input and then we went to Dolly with that and she started coming up with songs for these spots. I would talk sometimes about what was going on with the characters…and she just spit songs out. She writes really fast."
Parton admitted that before she got a script she came up with a slew of songs that would fit characters and moments. She said, "When they asked me to write the music, I just went home, before I ever even got the script, and I wrote stuff for all these different characters. I actually probably wrote 35, 40 songs and narrowed them down. I wrote what I thought these characters were — I just wrote songs I thought would fit. Then when I started with Pat's script, with her, we started placing them in different places, and, of course, I had to rewrite some stuff or had to replace some songs. A lot of the original stuff that I wrote [has remained]. I just throwed 'em out there for them. I figured, that's their job! 'You put 'em where you want 'em! I'm gonna write 'em!' If [Pat] said, 'We need a different song here, or this one's almost there, or could you change this verse?'…we worked really well together. We'd worked together in the past so we weren't ever offended by anything that anybody had to say. It was all constructive and good. …She trusted me, I trusted her, and we just really went after it."
Resnick said, "Dolly is the template for what famous people should be like, and rarely are. She is the most generous, warm, funny, smart person in the world. So to get to work with her again was wonderful."
Is the sound of 9 to 5, which is set in and around a corporate office in 1979, a Dolly Parton "country" sound?
Block, who is playing the Jane Fonda role of secretary Judy, told PlaybillRadio.com's Viagas, "I think this piece lends itself to have a complete spectrum of music. And Dolly's sensibility for that is quite genius. Broadway audiences are going to be surprised because her language goes far beyond country songs."
Tony Award nominee Kudisch, who plays the sexist boss Mr. Hart, observed, "Her music is very honest. It's a little dirty at times, it's very witty. …People forget that she's a writer as much as she's a singer. She's very good at writing in pretty much any genre she wants. Plus you have Steve Oremus and the whole arranger and orchestration team that are going to take it even a step further beyond that."
Block agreed and added, "Her music isn't general. It's not an umbrella of just beautiful words and melodies. It's very specific. …That specificity is very important to each of our characters and to this play."
Hilty, who plays Doralee, the role Parton created in the hit picture, said, "You would never guess that this is her first musical, ever. The music serves the text."
The Broadway pros have had their moments when they catch their breath and realize they're working with a show-business legend — winner of seven Grammy Awards, and a two-time Academy Award nominee (one of them for the song, "9 to 5," which is the musical's opening number). Kudisch confessed, "I have to say every now and again, I'm like, 'Yeah I'm singin' a song that Dolly wrote.'"
Block revealed with a laugh, "I must admit I do have a rehearsal tape, and I kept saying, 'I can't quite get this harmony, Dolly, would you sing it with me?' — and I'm just recording, and I'm singing with Dolly Parton!"
What a way to make a living!
(Interviews with the creators of 9 to 5 will be broadcast on PlaybillRadio.com on a date to be announced.)
The feisty office workers who are "just a step on the bossman's ladder" will officially open on Broadway April 23, 2009.
9 to 5: The Musical is based on the 20th Century Fox motion picture from 1980. Resnick came up with the film's original story and co-wrote the screenplay.
9 to 5: The Musical will star four-time Emmy Award winner and Tony Award nominee Janney as Violet, Block as Judy, Hilty as Doralee, and two-time Tony Award nominee Kudisch as Mr. Hart. (Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Parton and Dabney Coleman played the respective roles in the movie.)
Here's the plot: "When pushed to their boiling point by their boss, Franklin Hart Jr. (Marc Kudisch), Violet Newstead (Allison Janney), the super efficient office manager, Judy Bernly (Stephanie J. Block), a frazzled divorcee, and the sexy executive secretary Doralee Rhodes (Megan Hilty) turn the tables on him. The trio hatches a plan to get even with the sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot, and that plan quickly spins wildly and hilariously out of control."
Parton's original score for 9 to 5: The Musical will include over 20 new songs as well as the Grammy Award-winning, Academy Award-nominated No. 1 Billboard title song. "Backwoods Barbie," heard on Parton's new album of the same name, is also part of the show's score. It's a song for Doralee, in which she explains her frustration with people judging her on her appearance, rather than what's inside.
The 30-member cast of 9 to 5: The Musical features Andy Karl, Kathy Fitzgerald, Ioana Alfonso, Timothy Anderson, Jennifer Balagna, Justin Bohon, Paul Castree, Daniel Cooney, Jeremy Davis, Gaelen Gilliland, Autumn Guzzardi, Ann Harada, Lisa Howard, Van Hughes, Kevin Kern, Brendan King, Michael X. Martin, Michael Mindlin, Karen Murphy, Mark Myars, Jessica Lea Patty, Charlie Pollock, Tory Ross, Wayne Schroder, Maia Nkenge Wilson and Brandi Wooten.
The production will feature scenic design by two-time Tony Award winner Scott Pask, costume design by five-time Tony Award winner William Ivey Long, lighting design by eight-time Tony Award winners Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, sound design by John Shivers, with musical supervision by Stephen Oremus (Wicked, All Shook Up).
For more information visit www.9to5themusical.com.
Actress-singer-songwriter-musician Dolly Parton became a star on Porter Wagoner's syndicated television show in 1967, and they earned two Country Music Association (CMA) Awards for Duo of the Year. She blossomed into a solo artist, joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1969 and went on to win CMA Female Vocalist of the Year Honors two years in a row, and eventually Entertainer of the Year. As an actress, her first film was "9 to 5," which brought her an Academy Award nomination for the title song — arguably the most successful hit song of her career.
She has sold more than 100 million records worldwide and won countless awards including eight CMA and seven Grammy Awards. She has taken more than 20 songs to No. 1 including the mega hit "I Will Always Love You" which is the only song to have topped the charts three times — twice for Parton (1973 and 1982) and once for Whitney Houston (1992).
Her movie acting credits include "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," "Rhinestone," "Steel Magnolias" and "Straight Talk." She was also nominated for an Academy Award that year for her hit song "Travelin' Thru" written for the movie "Transamerica." She continues to tour and release albums, flirting with pop, country, bluegrass and blues.
Producer Greenblatt is currently president of entertainment for Showtime Networks Inc. where he is responsible for programming development, acquisitions, and scheduling of all Showtime channels. Current original series hits include "Weeds," "Dexter," "The Tudors," "Californication," "The L Word," "Brotherhood," "Secret Diary of a Call Girl," "This American Life," "Penn & Teller: Bullshit!" and Tracey Ullman's "State of the Union."