Friday, April 24, 2009

Takin' Care of Business


As seen on the cover of HX Magazine, 4/24/2009

For nearly three decades, the distinct and rousing staccato that punctuates the intro to Dolly Parton’s Grammy-winning anthem “9 to 5” has sparked hysteria in queens across the country and beyond. The 1980 blockbuster movie for which the song was written has likewise remained a staple on our list of all-time camp classics. Now the film has come to life on stage, as 9 to 5: The Musical gets to work eight times a week at Broadway’s Marquis Theatre. Featuring an acclaimed new score by Parton and an all-star cast led by Stephanie J. Block, Megan Hilty and Allison Janney, it’s the most exciting thing to hit the workplace since Casual Fridays.

The misadventures of three zany secretaries (originated on screen by Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin) on a crusade to overthrow their tyrannical, sexist boss, the film version ranked alongside Thelma & Louise as a righteous tale of girl power. With the addition of twenty new Parton songs, costumes by William Ivey Long (The Producers, Hairspray, Grey Gardens), choreography by Tony winner Andy Blankenbuehler (In The Heights) and director Joe Mantello (Wicked) at the helm, the result is nothing short of a musical-comedy wet dream.

“Before the girls from Sex and the City came on the scene, we were all asking each other, ‘Are you a Doralee, a Violet, or a Judy?’” recalls Janney. The West Wing Emmy winner makes her impressive Broadway musical debut as Violet Newstead, a single mom with her eye on a fat promotion and a fat doobie in her purse. “People have always related to them. They’re unique, kick-ass women who wear really fun clothes. You just wanna root for them.”

Having portrayed Liza Minnelli in 2003’s The Boy from Oz and ranking high on the list of Wicked’s most popular Elphabas, Stephanie Block has already achieved gay goddess status. She succeeds Fonda as recent divorcée and office newbie Judy Bernly, but says she’s not just imitating the veteran actress. “We’re all interpreting these characters in our own ways. At the same time, of course, we want to pay homage to the incredible work the actresses did in the film.”

Hilty, who conquers the hefty task of filling out Parton’s double-Ds as Mr. Hart’s sweet but sassy secretary Doralee Rhodes, agrees. “I know that comparisons will be drawn,” she admits. “It’s tricky because I’m not playing Dolly up there, yet the character was inspired by Dolly. My job is to find a balance by making the part my own, while still honoring all the things she did to make it so iconic.” Hilty must be doing something right, as the original Backwoods Barbie has given her stamp of approval. “[Dolly] has been nothing but supportive from the beginning. She’s really set an amazing tone around here for all of us.” Janney even admits she’s developed something of a girl crush on the music legend. “How much do I love Dolly Parton? I just wanna hang out with her all the time. She knew how intimidating this whole thing was for me at first, and has been so encouraging.”

But like the show’s composer, there’s a lot more to this flashy spectacle than meets the eye. Beneath all the glitz, glam and big hair, 9 to 5: The Musical has unyielding heart and a compelling message certain to strike chords with queer audiences. “It’s a story about fighting for rights,” says Block, who compares the struggle for workplace equality to that of marriage equality. “The recognition of a cause and working together towards [it] is incredibly unifying. I think those themes of hope and endurance will resonate with fans.”

9 to 5: The Musical is playing at the Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway/45th St,, 212.307.4100, $65–$125.

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