A Cup of Ambition: 9 to 5 Musical Takes Next Step in NYC Reading with Neuwirth, Janney, Block
By Kenneth Jones
The latest draft of the new Dolly Parton-Patricia Resnick musical 9 to 5 is being tested in a week-long reading process that will culminate in industry presentations June 28 in Manhattan.
Following earlier readings of the new stage musical comedy based on the 20th Century Fox film, director Joe Mantello (Wicked) is overseeing a workshop cast that includes Allison Janney (in the Lily Tomlin role), Stephanie J. Block (in the Jane Fonda role) and Megan Hilty (in the Dolly Parton role); with Bebe Neuwirth (Chicago) as office snitch Roz; Marc Kudisch (Thoroughly Modern Millie) as the boss, Mr. Hart; and Andy Karl (Legally Blonde), among others, including an ensemble.
The 1980 picture focuses on three office mates who conspire against their chauvinist martinet of a boss. Dabney Coleman, who made a career out of playing sour jerks, starred as the boss in the movie.
Songwriter Dolly Parton has written the music and lyrics for the new show, which has a libretto by Patricia Resnick, based on her screenplay. Resnick previously told Playbill.com the show will remain set in the 1980s. Parton's infectious title song for the movie was Oscar-nominated for Best Song.
There will be two private industry presentations in Manhattan June 28.
Musical supervision is by Kevin Stites (The Color Purple, Threepenny Opera, Nine, Fiddler on the Roof, On the Town, Les Misérables), with arrangements of Parton's new songs by Stites and Charles duChateau.
The new musical comedy is being produced by Robert Greenblatt, president of entertainment at Showtime Networks, Inc.
Earlier this year, on Jan. 19, a reading of the material included Tracey Ullman, Alice Ripley and Megan Hilty, with Norm Lewis, Marc Kudisch, Amy Hohn and an ensemble.
Industry speculation has the show poised as a potential smash if country-fried, gospel-flecked Parton can make her work theatrical and characterful rather than just melodic and hooky.
As women are generally thought to lead decision-making when it comes to theatregoing, the show has great intergenerational possibilities for the demographic: Women who lived through workplace sexism in the '70s and '80s might feel nostalgic for the story, and young women who came of age around the time of the film's release might have daughters of their own now that they wish to take to the woman-positive musical.
The musical will be comprised of new songs by Parton, who is known for her hits "I Will Always Love You," "Coat of Many Colors" and "Jolene." The title song, which has the lyric about being "just a step on the boss man's ladder," will be part of the stage score. It will be Parton's first time scoring a legit musical.
A 2007-08 launch is expected for the stage musical, although Greenblatt has made no official announcement about the production's timetable or cast.
The casting for this latest workshop does not necessarily reflect future Broadway casting.
Librettist Patricia Resnick had story and co-screenwriter credit on the hit picture. Resnick previously told Playbill.com 9 to 5 would be a large-cast show of perhaps 25 actors.
Given the film's broad commercial strokes and the clear "wants" of its three main characters (three secretaries), it's almost a surprise a plan for 9 to 5, the Musical didn't emerge sooner.
"It's something that's been kicking around for years and years," Resnick told Playbill.com in 2005. "Over the years various people have approached me about trying to do a musical version. Almost two years ago Bob Greenblatt approached me about it. It finally seemed to be 'right person, right time' — we were able to get Dolly involved and Bob and I started moving forward with it."
In the movie, the trio of office secretaries want to get ahead, punish a bullying, sexist boss and overcome the treachery of the boss' office mole, Roz. Fantasy sequences punctuate the comedy, which earned Resnick and co-screenwriter Colin Higgins (who directed) a 1981 nomination for a Writers Guild of America Award in the category of Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen.
Resnick said the transition to the stage has been smooth; she hasn't had to dismantle what worked about the story.
"We've tried to keep the things that are near and dear to people," Resnick said, "but we've tried to definitely see it as its own creature. We're setting it in 1980. We do derive some humor from the things that, in 1980, people are looking forward to, which are sort of mixed blessings — like all of the technology that we have now. This is before cell phones, no faxes, computers were not used the way they are now."
The characters will include three secretaries, Judy, Violet and Doralee, Mr. Hart (the boss), Roz (the office spy) and "a couple of other male parts that were in the movie," which have been beefed up for the stage. An ensemble will be part of the musical. In addition, "we did add some romance" to the plot, Resnick said.
Resnick's screen credits include the Mandy Patinkin-Glenn Close picture, "Maxie"; the TV movies "Hell on Heels: The Battle of Mary Kay," "Jenifer," "Grandpa's Funeral," "The Price of a Broken Heart," "Sex, Lies & Obsession," "The Expendables"; the features "Straight Talk" (co-written with Craig Bolotin) starring Dolly Parton, "Second Sight" (co-written with Tom Schulman) and Robert Altman's "A Wedding" (for which Resnick shared screenplay credit).
Resnick also wrote a teleplay for PBS in 1979 called "Ladies in Waiting," which she later adapted for the musical stage (with Alan Poul and Jonathan Sheffer). It was presented in Woodstock, IL, in summer stock, she said, and then moved to the Lyric Opera House in Chicago. The show remains a licensable property that "never quite made it to Broadway, but it's around."
How did the original "Nine to Five" (sometimes written as "9 to 5") film come about?
"Jane Fonda wanted to make a political statement about clerical workers and secretaries, and she wanted to work with Lily and Dolly — I actually read about it in the trades," Resnick explained. "At the time, we were both with William Morris, and there was no writer attached. Lily gave me my first job. I wrote for her first Broadway show, Appearing Nitely. I had done a couple of sketches for Dolly for a Cher special, so I had somewhat of a relationship with both of them. I asked that Jane read some of my work and consider me, which she did. She explained to me what she wanted to say — she wanted to work with Lily and Dolly, and she did want it couched in terms of a comedy. She thought political statements are more palatable using comedy. I came up with the story. We then took it to 20th Century Fox."
Underneath the comedy, the movie was about the smart, industrious but invisible women behind the power structure of corporate America. "That's changed a little, but not as much as you would have thought in the 25 years since the movie came out," Resnick said.
The film inspired a TV series of the same name.
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