‘9 to 5’ finds new life on stage
Ever have the feeling that if you just got your boss out of the picture, you could run the company the way it ought to be run?
These ladies did, with a ball-gag and a lot of forged signatures.
The Broadway musical version of “9 to 5” will land at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts on Tuesday. With songs written by Dolly Parton, the show — based on the hit 1980 movie that launched her into superstardom — received four Tony Award nominations and a record 15 Drama Desk nominations when it debuted in 2009.
In the show, three polyester-clad women in a stifling circa-1980 workplace fantasize about how they would kill Franklin Hart Jr., their “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” of a boss. A mad-cap adventure ensues when they discover they may have accidentally poisoned his coffee, replete with a kidnapping, a joint and lots of show-stopping musical numbers.
Mamie Parris plays Judy Bernly, a freshly divorced woman who embarks on a new career as a secretary in a massive corporation. The role was played by Jane Fonda in the film.
“Jane, I believe, had the original idea for the movie and went to a screenwriter with it,” Parris said. “She said, ‘This is something that is happening in the workplace and we need to talk about it.’ This is really art imitating life.”
Parton, who played Hart’s secretary, Doralee, in the original film, has become very involved with the touring production — partially, Parris speculated, because Parton wasn’t “100% pleased” with the Broadway version, and wanted the opportunity to impact the touring version.
“She comes out whenever she can, which has been great,” Parris said, describing Parton as a kind of “fairy godmother.” “She makes fudge for us, and she’s really been there for us. She’s been a huge supporter.”
For her part, stepping into Fonda’s pointy pumps and bringing new life to the character took a bit of forethought, Parris said.
“I’ve seen the movie, of course; it’s a classic, and I’m a big fan,” she said. “When I got called back [to audition], I did watch the movie again for inspiration. They always say to ‘feel from the best’ in this biz, and I really did feel from the best, Jane Fonda. I feel my Judy has a lot of her in her, out of respect to her and because she did such a good job, but I can’t help but have my personality come through, too.”
Parris said theater was a natural choice for her.
“I’ve always been a singer,” Parris said. “Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve loved to sing.”
Parris’ family moved from Texas to Kansas City when she was 12; she then had the eleventh-hour opportunity to enroll in a performing arts magnet school.
“It was so last-minute that I didn’t even have a choir class,” Parris recalled. “But I did have an acting class, and I fell in love with it.”
Upon moving to New York City, Parris cut her teeth acting and understudying in Broadway shows like “Ragtime” and “The Drowsy Chaperone.” She also went on the national tour of “Legally Blonde: The Musical,” which prepared her for the experience of taking “9 to 5” around the country.
“Of course, when you’re touring you have two bags for all your stuff,” she said. “Our touring family can be a little dysfunctional at times, but we have had a great time. We’re really well received everywhere we go, but the jokes are received differently in different places. We’re in Denver now, and will be in Costa Mesa next; I’m looking forward to going to the beach.”
The tour has had its ups and downs, Parris said; she contracted a cold in Seattle that has lingered, but she’s sung through it, despite not feeling her best.
“You really try to keep your immune system up, and the altitude has been tricky here in Denver,” she said. “It feels different to sing here; you focus a lot more on breathing. I swear we should all have stock in Emergen-C [vitamin drink mix], because we go through that like gangbusters. As performers, we’re already so in touch with our bodies; we do yoga and drink a lot of water, things like that. But as much as we travel, it’s just a lot of washing your hands and doing everything you can to avoid what’s out there.”
Parris is married, but her husband, Johnathan, lives in New York while she’s on the road.
“We try to see each other every three to four weeks; no more than that, because I know I get really cranky,” Parris laughed. “He’s out in Denver with me now, with our dog, Cookie. We went hiking in Red Rocks yesterday. It is a challenge to be on the road, but we Skype all the time; we’re big fans of video conferencing. When I see him, I appreciate him, and it really makes it so that when we’re together, we’re absolutely, 100% together. I certainly hope next time to bring him with me. When you decide what’s important to you, you make it happen.”
Parris said the show is a constant reminder of her mother, who was an avid Parton fan.
“I grew up listening to Dolly and Patsy Cline,” she said. “My mother passed away in ’09 of breast cancer, and I think she could identify a lot with Dolly as a person — someone who grew up dirt poor and got educated and did something with herself. She feels like a kindred spirit. Every time I go onstage, I think of how my mom would really, really love this.”
If You GoWhat: “9 to 5: The Musical”
When: Tuesday to May 15
Where: Segerstrom Hall, Segerstrom Center for the Arts
Cost: $20 and up
Information: (714) 556-2787 or scfta.org