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Working 9 to 5: Dolly Parton Comes to Broadway

Updated: Aug 21, 2023

Closing Night dives into the Queen of Country Music as she brings her hit song and other new music to the stage. Here is the transcript of that episode and sources used...

Dolly Parton and cast of 9 to 5 musical

When 9 to 5 premiered on Broadway in 2009, the musical had all the makings of a surefire hit: it was based on a beloved classic comedic film and had one of the catchiest pop hits of the 80s by none other than Dolly Parton.

Message from Dolly:

“Well, hey everybody! When I hear that sound it takes me back to a time before computers and cell phones, back when Apples and Blackberries were something I picked out behind the barn.”


Needless to say, 9 to 5 the Musical was eagerly anticipated by fans of the movie and theatergoers alike. The film's message of female empowerment and standing up against workplace discrimination has continued to resonate with audiences. Add to that a star-studded cast and an award-winning creative team that included the Grammy-winning Queen of country music herself, this show had everything going for it.


9 to 5 on the marquee at the Marquis Theatre

Yet despite the initial buzz and excitement, 9 to 5 struggled to maintain its momentum on Broadway and clocked out of the Marquis Theatre after less than five months. Was this a case of bad reviews, bad decisions, or simply bad luck? As we’ll discover, there were many factors that contributed to such a short run on Broadway. But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this story is how it illuminates the inner workings of the movie-to-musical pipeline and the delicate balance between making art and making money.

 

Closing Night is a theater history podcast about famous and forgotten Broadway shows that closed too soon, hosted and produced by New York actor Patrick Oliver Jones. This first season highlights some of the shows that have come and gone from one of Broadway’s youngest venues: the Marquis Theatre. And this is the transcript to the third episode of the season all about 9 to 5. It has only been slightly edited for this format. You can listen to the full episode here or on your favorite podcast app:



Dolly Parton

If you walk down Broadway or around the West End these days, you might think you’re in Hollywood. That’s because more and more movies are finding their way onto the stage. Now, transforming a well-known movie into a musical certainly doesn’t guarantee success. But there are two advantages it gives to any production: name recognition and a built-in audience. However, when it comes to adapting the movie 9 to 5 for the stage, it actually comes with a third and even bigger asset: Dolly Parton.

the many faces of Dolly Parton

“I just sit down, if I’m in a writing mood, a creative mood, I just feel I’ve got something I wanna say that wants to come out. And I usually just sit down with my guitar, and I just start singing, and it just kinda all comes at once.” - Dolly Parton (1980)


Dolly was a songwriter first before she ever started recording the songs herself. But once she did, that led to numerous hits in the late 1960s and 70s as well as television shows and specials. But eventually, the big screen came a-callin’.

“9 to 5 was really a joy for me, and it was like something I was not expecting. I had been offered movie roles at different times. I had not been interested in doing the movies because at that time, my my writing career, my entertaining, I was traveling, touring. I was doing really well with that. And so I didn't want to kind of get sidetracked just then. But when Jane Fonda came to me and presented this idea to me, I thought well how can I not do this?” (Vanity Fair)


stars of 9 to 5 movie in 1980: Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin
Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin in 1980

The Movie

In the late 70s, actress and producer Jane Fonda began work on a new motion picture through her recently formed production company IPC Films. The idea for this picture came from an old friend of Fonda’s, who had started an organization of women office workers in Boston, and called that group Nine To Five. To flesh out this idea Fonda brought on screenwriter Patricia Resnick and director Colin Higgins to create a workplace drama about secretaries, struggling to establish equality with men in terms of pay and position. The movie took a slightly different turn, though, once they started thinking about casting, as Fonda explained on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert back in 2017.

“We started off with a very dark, dark comedy. And then one night, I went to see Lily in her one-woman show Appearing Nightly. And what can I say? I was smitten. And I said, ‘I don't want to make a movie about secretaries unless she's in it.’ And then on the way home, I turned on the radio, and Dolly Parton was singing ‘Two Doors Down’…and I thought, ‘Oh my, imagine if Dolly Parton played a secretary.’ I mean, you couldn't see her hands, but it would be…you know. And so we had to, I said, ’In order to get them, I got to turn it into a real comedy.’” - Jane Fonda

But even though Fonda asked both ladies to join her in the movie, it actually took about a year of persuading to bring both of them onboard. During that time some backup options considered just in case: for Lily Tomlin, it was going to be Carol Burnett, and for Dolly, it was Ann-Margret. Well, we’ll never know how that movie would’ve turned out, because of course both ladies did agree to join the project. However, Dolly did have one stipulation before accepting her offer: “Part of my deal with Jane was that I would do it. But I said, I have to write the theme song and I get to record it. That was part of my deal.”


The Song

Well, she certainly knew something about songwriting, but being an actress was a different story. And so as Dolly prepared for her acting debut in 9 to 5, she memorized every line in the script, not just her own—every line. In her mind that’s what movie actors did. Well, she soon came to realize of course that she didn’t need to worry about all those other lines, which gave Dolly more time to focus on writing the movie’s theme song:


“Everyday on the set I’d just watch what was going on, and I have these acrylic nails and they sounded like a typewriter to me. And it was all about secretaries, so I kinda look around and I just, you know, like in the mornings I’d get up and 'tumble out of bed and stumble to the kitchen.' And notice different things on the set, like 'working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living.'

So it was over a period of time. I wrote the theme song just kind of playing off of all the girls. And then when I got ready to record it, I brought all the women—not the men, just all the women cause it was about the women in the workplace—and everybody on set, even the script girls, whoever they were, I brought them all down to the studio to sing on it with me.”



TV Guide cover with the cast of the 9 to 5 television show

The movie released in December of 1980, and 9 to 5 went on to become the biggest grossing comedy film the following year, with the movie's soundtrack just as popular. Dolly’s hit single “9 to 5” becoming one of the few songs ever to reach number-one on the country and pop charts simultaneously, and she became only the second female artist to do so. The song earned an Oscar nomination and won two Grammy Awards, and also became the theme song to a TV sitcom based on the movie, which aired on ABC and starred Rachel Dennison, who just happened to be Dolly's sister.


The Musical

With all that success, it’s no surprise that this story about three secretaries also caught the attention of notable musical theater types. Annie creator Martin Charnin was interested in it as well as Hairspray’s Tony-winning composer Marc Shaiman, who had existing songs he thought could be worked into a musical. But just as that piece began to develop, Robert Greenblatt, the head of Showtime Network at the time, had a pivotal meeting with Patricia Resnick in 2005. He wanted to finally bring 9 to 5 to the stage. And of course their first thought was to ask Dolly to write the score.

“When they came to me about it, I was thinking, 'Well, why now?' After 20 some years, 25 years, I guess, at that time when they asked me to write it. And I thought, 'Well, that's interesting. I'll see how it goes and see if I can even do it.' But after I got into it, then I saw it was perfect for that.” (Broadway Beat)

And Dolly wasn’t content to just mimic her “9 to 5” song for the rest of the musical. Instead, as Dolly explained to TheaterMania, she gave each character a chance to shine in their own uniquely musical way.

“So when you write for musicals, you've got a little more freedom to write, basically what you think the character is feeling and knowing. And however that turns out, it can be longer, it can be shorter. So it actually got to be fun. And I had fun just being all the different characters.” (TheaterMania)

This was not only a learning process for Dolly, but the same can be said for Greenblatt and Resnick as well. All three of them had had great success in their respective fields, but none of them had ever worked on a musical before.

Patricia Resnick at 9 to 5 opening
Patricia Resnick

“There were definitely certain things I had to learn, like you can't cut in the theater. So if people are wearing one costume, you cannot immediately have them in another costume, even though in the movies they rip off their clothes backstage and run back on. So there was a little bit of a learning curve on things like that.” - Patricia Resnick (Broadway Beat)

As with any movie-turned-musical, there’s always the decision of how much of the original source material to include. And with the words and images from the hit movie in most people’s minds, producer Robert Greenblatt wanted to make sure they found a balance between just restaging the film and actually developing a brand new musical.



"We didn't want any shock of, ‘Oh, what happened to that character?’ There are several iconic lines in the screenplay that we feel the audience waiting for and applauding. So we wanted to make sure all those were there." - Robert Greenblatt (NPR)


Resnick, Parton, and Greenblatt at 2009 Drama Desk Awards
Resnick, Parton, and Greenblatt at 2009 Drama Desk Awards

“One of the wonderful things about theater and particularly about musicals is you can go into character’s mind. You get to have songs where people talk about what they really think and feel. And so what happened is, I think that my understanding of the characters deepened as we did the musical. I really got to know them even better than I did when I was writing them for film.” - Patricia Resnick (MTI)


“We’ve made a lot of changes. And at the end of the day, I think people will look at it and go, 'Oh, that's really close to the movie,' which I think is the goal.” - Robert Greenblatt (NPR)


Casting the Leading Ladies

Just like with the 1980 movie, casting was going to be key for this musical, which is why Tony Award winning director Joe Mantello, who happened to be a high school friend of Greenblatt, was brought in to direct. But as with most productions, it took a few combinations before getting it right. The initial private industry reading in January 2007 starred Tracey Ullman, Alice Ripley and Megan Hilty as the three central characters. But a few months later they lost Tracey Ullman as she began work on her new TV Series State of the Union, and Alice Ripley went on to star in another new musical, Next To Normal.

With two more private industry readings coming up, another round of auditions was conducted to fill these vacant roles. One of the ladies they brought in was Stephanie J. Block, who was finishing up The Pirate Queen at the time.


Stephanie J. Block onstage as the Pirate Queen with sword in hand
Stephanie J. Block in The Pirate Queen

"I've been cast in these kind of strong, angsty women. So to have this role that's so fragile and tender, and she's stumbling her way to find her voice as a woman. And then, of course, I do get this really kick butt song at the end of act two where Judy finds her voice. But it's been a dream. I just want to take care of this character because Jane did an amazing job with the movie. Of course they made it famous. I'm now going to embody it and do my own spin on it, which you get to do through song and dance, and we'll see how I take care of her.” - Stephanie J. Block (TheaterMania)

And for the role of Violet, Ana Gasteyer was tried out for one reading, but Mantello had his own idea of who could play this part, Allison Janney, someone not normally known for her singing voice.

Allison Janney as C.J. Cregg on the TV show The West Wing

“It was Joe Mantello, who I've worked with before, called me and asked me to come do this. And I said, ‘No.’ … And he asked me to come do the workshop, which was a great way for me to try it out and see if I liked it, get the feet wet. And I fell in love with them and we had a great chemistry together, and I thought I could do this.” Allison Janney (Today Show)

Janney was certainly well-known nationally from her days as C.J. Cregg on The West Wing. And though this was going to be her first Broadway musical, she was no stranger to singing in character, having done musicals onscreen before, namely Hairspray in 2007. But that doesn’t mean she wasn’t still a bit nervous about playing this role, as she confessed to Broadway.com during a press presentation.

“Violet, of course, was played by the amazing Lily Tomlin in the original movie. I keep looking behind my back, though, thinking she's going to show up with a hook and drag me off this, you know. I think she's thrilled. She better be.” - Allison Janney (Broadway.com)


And so with their final workshop, the 9 to 5 cast solidified around their three leading ladies: Allison Janney (in the Lily Tomlin role), Stephanie J. Block (in the Jane Fonda role) and Megan Hilty remained in the Dolly Parton role. Of these three leads, Hilty was relatively unknown, since 9 to 5 would only be her second Broadway show, and now she was filling the very big shoes of Dolly Parton.

Megan Hilty as Glinda and Caissie Levy as Elphaba in Wicked
Megan Hilty and Caissie Levy in Wicked

But Hilty had already felt that kind of pressure before in her Broadway debut as a replacement for Glinda in the mega-musical Wicked. In fact, Greenblatt took Dolly to see Wicked when they were considering Hilty for the role of Doralee, and Dolly was immediately enamored with her and thought she was going to be perfect for the part. Still, playing a part made famous by Dolly Parton was going to come with comparisons as Hilty mentioned on the Today Show.


“No pressure there. Yeah, I'm also singing her title song to her new album, "Backwoods Barbie," which is a little terrifying. But she's been so wonderful. She's incredibly supportive and this has been such an honor to try and fill her shoes and her bra.” - Megan Hilty

Marc Kudisch at his desk in 9 to 5

And taking on the role of the “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” of boss Franklin Hart was none other than Marc Kudisch.


“I feel bad for a date or a husband that comes along because he's going to get the fist throughout the evening and the elbow throughout the evening, but it's going to be really entertaining.” - Marc Kudisch (Broadway.com)


“It was easy to write the girls, because I know how they feel about everything. But you get into Mr. Hart's thinking and the way his conniving mind worked. So I think I had more fun doing him.” - Dolly Parton (TheaterMania)


Los Angeles Premiere

And while there was certainly fun to be had, there was still lots of work to be done as well. But of course the collaborative process often involves a lot of cooks in the kitchen— including Resnick, and Greenblatt along with director Joe Mantello and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler.

Maia Nkenge Wilson, Gaelen Gilliland and Lisa Howard at the opening night party in Los Angeles.
Ensemble members Maia Nkenge Wilson, Gaelen Gilliland and Lisa Howard at the opening night party in L.A.

But we can’t forget about the ensemble of course, an essential part of any musical. Well, Lisa Howard was part of that ensemble and played Mr. Hart’s wife, and she gives an example of the back-and-forth process of rehearsals.

“We would take all day and learn a whole big group number. Andy would choreograph and everything. And then at the end of the day, Joe would come in, and he'd be like ‘bleh, bleh, bleh’ and then it was scrapped. And then we would literally start over…I just think they just weren't agreeing on how it should look and how it should go. Obviously, eventually they did, but it was a constant do and redo.”


At the first tech rehearsal for their 2008 world premiere in Los Angeles, the cast got to be on the set for the first time and found out just how realistic their stage environment was going to be. 9 to 5 opens with an empty stage that transforms to a completely detailed office with fluorescent lights, a water cooler, and props galore. And it all happens in less than 20 seconds. The show also incorporated a huge LED screen in the back of the set. Now, this is technology that’s becoming more widely used now, but was not as common for the stage back in 2008. As Howard explains, there were still some kinks to iron out during tech:

scene from 9 to 5 with Kudisch in the air while three leading ladies sing

“We were all like, this is cool. But it was expensive. So I think there were a lot of hurdles in that way. The set itself had this big ginormous hole in the middle of the stage that the desks would come up. We had an accident during tech. Marc Kudish thought the crash pad was there, jumped. It wasn't. I mean, he could have killed himself. He didn't. And Marc was like, ‘Well, I didn't die because I know how to fall.’ It's true. He rolled and he was all bruised. It was a lot.”

There were times when Joe Mantello seemed more like a traffic cop during rehearsals than a director. He not only had his hands full working with the actors and trying to keep them safe, but he also had to work out the intricately designed scenic moves and transitions that required constant tweaks. To the point at which the show released a statement to the press that the first three preview performances in LA had to be cancelled because of “the size and scope of the new musical necessitate further technical rehearsals.”

9 to 5's choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler and director Joe Mantello
Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler and Director Joe Mantello

"It was that way when we were rehearsing for the Ahmanson. There was a time during tech, they're doing lights. We're in the lobby rehearsing, changing stuff." - Lisa Howard

But on September 9th with their first paying audience, producer Greenblatt wasn’t worried about the scenes, he was worried about the scenic changes. He knew that there were likely to be some last-minute technical problems, so he arranged for Dolly to come out and welcome everyone beforehand and remind the audience that this is preview performance, so it might stop a few times.


Well, things went pretty smoothly until the end of Act 1, when, sure enough, things suddenly ground to a halt. And as if on cue, Dolly got up from her seat and went to the front of the stage and started taking questions from the audience, and then Dolly did with this theater audience what she does what she does with her concert audiences all the time—a sing-along of the “9 to 5” theme song.

Dolly Parton onstage singing

But after that sing-along the technical issues still continued, so Dolly went on to sing another of her famous compositions, “I Will Always Love You.” Remarking that Whitney Houston may have sung the song better, but Dolly made more money on it. Well, that theater audience loved every minute of it of course, because this was Dolly in her element — quick on her feet and always the brightest star in the room.


Her musical though, was still finding its feet throughout the previews. Because even when the technical elements were working, there were creative elements that had to be sorted out.

“There was one time when they couldn't agree on this one number. And so we had a show. We went out, stood still and sang, Eggy, eggy. Oh, my God. Because they couldn’t agree, we didn't know what to do. Stood out there and sang and then left. We were like, ‘What is happening?’ So it was challenging. I mean, we were having fun while we were doing it, but eventually everyone's like, oh, my God.” - Lisa Howard


Now, while I would say that is an extreme example, it is true that changes can and do occur constantly during previews—sometimes its simplifying staging or other times it’s cutting part of a song or a rewriting a scene. And for 9 to 5, this was true as well, especially if it crossed a line Dolly was not comfortable with.

 

For pretty much her entire career, Dolly has remained famously apolitical. She’s even turned down the Presidential Medal of Freedom twice to avoid even the appearance of politics. One time on ABC’s Nightline, the interviewer tried to bring up the subject, but Dolly wouldn’t take the bait:

“I don’t do politics. I’m not getting into any of that, because I have a lot of fans out there and I don’t want to offend anybody…Of course I have my opinions about everybody and everything. But I learned a long time ago to keep your damn mouth shut if you want to stay in show business. I’m not in politics. I’m an entertainer.”

Well, during the LA previews of 9 to 5, Resnick had inserted a disparaging line about President George W. Bush into Doralee’s epilogue at the end of the show. And although this wisecrack equating Bush with “a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” may have gotten a huge cheer from audiences in LA…Dolly wasn’t too happy about it. She told Entertainment Weekly that she didn’t think that was the right thing to do, because she didn’t want to offend half the audience. So the line was replaced ahead of opening night with something Dolly uses in her own concerts. Doralee’s new, nonpartisan epilogue now says that she “briefly considered running for president, but realized she was too late. Bigger boobs had already beaten her to the White House.”

“It's very funny and very good. So it's not just a big political statement. We've made a good statement and it's got a good message, but it's very, very fun and very entertaining. And I tried my best to write the songs where they really had a lot to say, had a lot of meaning and had a lot of fun in them as well.” - Dolly Parton (This Morning)

 

Well, the cast and creative team were certainly ready to have a lot of fun for the 9 to 5 world premiere at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles on September 20, 2008. However, once again the technical components did not want to play nice and stopped the show—just 20 minutes into the first act—and once again Dolly was there to save the day.

the stars of both the movie and musical versions of 9 to 5
Kudisch, Coleman, Tomlin, Janney, Hilty, Parton, Fonda, and Block at LA premiere

This time, though, she had some help from her co-stars from the original movie. Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dabney Coleman were all there for opening night and joined her on stage to chat about the show. Then Dolly distracted the audience as she had done before with a sing-along of “9 to 5” and was just about to go into “I Will Always Love You” when she received word that the technical difficulties had been fixed. Well, the crowd actually groaned, wanting another number. “No, no, no,” she responded. “Let’s do that when we break down again!” Not sure that’s the kind of message you wanna leave an audience with, but it’s not like it was a secret either. Allison Janney and Stephanie J. Block even went on The View talking about the show’s scenic issues.

Janney - “It was like you were all of a sudden in a horror film, one of those, like an earthquake. Earthquake. And things would just—everyone looked like a deer in headlights on stage because we weren't sure what was going to hit us that night because it was just a huge set with lots of moving pieces and … there are a lot of things to run into.”
Block - “We refer to the set as a “she” and she is a whole ‘nother character in the play. And I think most musicals have about 17-18 scene transitions. We've been told we have 47…”

In the same interview with the cast, Hilty mentioned that there were some people who came to the show hoping the set would break down, just so they’d get to hear Dolly sing. So it begs the question: was all this tech even worth it? The challenges and delays it was causing? Los Angeles area newspapers like The Orange County Register seem to wonder the same thing:


This production is more tricked out than it needs to be. Director Joe Mantello and his creative team have spent a great deal of time and energy turning a modest story about office politics into a bells-and-whistles Broadway show.

Dolly Parton at 9 to 5 opening

Still, while most LA critics acknowledged that the show was a work in progress, they also noted that “if you liked the movie, you’ll love the musical” and “there's a lot of laughs…and sheer entertainment at work.” The Los Angeles production wound up with seven nominations at the LA Ovation Awards, and at the LA Drama Critics Circle Awards it won two for Best Choreography and Best Score. For Dolly, though, just seeing her first musical come to life was all the reward she needed.

“One of the biggest thrills of my entire life—it was just overwhelming to me really—when they started in rehearsals and I was hearing all those voices, and I was hearing my songs, and I was like ‘Wow!' But it was just such a joy, such a thrill to hear that all come to life. It was just overwhelming, I almost fainted—it was just such a rush that it almost tipped my head over.” - Dolly Parton (MTI)


Heading to Broadway

But with Broadway just a few months away, Dolly continued to work on that score by writing new songs that made better use of the performers. There were a total of six production numbers cut out and three new songs added in, but even then, Dolly had plenty of songs that never saw the light of day, some of which she felt were better than what ended up in the musical, but that’s what happens in the collaborative writing process of a musical.


Yet while Dolly and the team continued to work on script and score, trouble that had been brewing in the US and international markets for most of 2008 finally hit a steep decline in September and bottomed out in November. During this time, producer Greenblatt came to realize that his $10 million musical wasn’t going to make its original opening date at the Marquis. Greenblatt said “time constraints made an earlier opening date impossible.” So it was pushed a week later to April 30, 2009, which marked the very last day to qualify for the Tony Awards that season.


Female cast of 9 to 5 dancing onstage

Finally come to Broadway. More changes. More changes. We’re doing it. Then there was trouble with, I think, with the lighting designers, they weren't liking what they were doing. They ended up hiring a new set of lighting designers. The LED screen in the back, that was a problem and way over budget. - Lisa Howard


So as you can see, a lot happened between the Los Angeles run and Broadway previews. And through all these challenges, Lisa Howard and the rest of the cast kept working and rehearsing, doing their best to ignore all the distractions and setbacks.


“I don't want to paint such a negative picture. It was fun. And we were working with Dolly Parton. It was great…She would make a fudge and give us all, like, homemade fudge, and she would be backstage as we would come off, you go to your gondola, you change into your robe and you go up to your dressing room and she'd be there giving everybody high fives. ‘Great job. Great job.’ I was like, Dolly Parton!” - Lisa Howard


Hilty and Parton onstage laughing at opening night on Broadway with Block, Janney, and Kudisch behind them
Hilty and Parton on opening night with Block, Janney, and Kudisch

With Dolly’s infectious joy for music, her larger-than-life-personality, and her undeniable skills as a singer and songwriter, most critics said they were surprised that she was only now making her Broadway debut with 9 to 5, and that it took so long to bring this movie to the stage. But despite the decades in between, when the show finally opened at the Marquis on April 30, 2009, its core message was as relevant then as it was back in 1980.

“I also think it's not just about women being mistreated, it's about anybody being mistreated. She's got a great speech at the end of the play that's about the little guy. And we have all these men, the man that the suits that are doing tricks under the table, and it's the little guy that pays for it. So I think, especially in this economy, we're seeing it, we're feeling it, and it's very pertinent to today.” Stephanie J. Block (Today Show)

The movie and musical champion a message of female empowerment and ending bad behavior that would also become a central part of the MeToo movement just a few years later. And it’s actually very interesting, considering everything we know now, to look back at the list of producers for 9 to 5 the Musical, one of which was The Weinstein Company. In fact, Harvey Weinstein was there opening night at the Marquis Theatre talking about the show’s message.


“It’s women emancipation. Secondly, it’s about women wanting to kill their boss. And third of all, I know that everybody in my company wants to kill me, and they bought multiple tickets. I think this show can survive on just my company. But that absolute fantasy of getting even, and that will work for time and memorial. And in these economic times, everybody wants to kill their boss, so it’s going to be great!” - Harvey Weinstein

Harvey Weinstein at 9 to 5 opening

Talk about life imitating art. This off-handed remark on the red carpet became a self-fulfilling prophecy just eight years later, when more than 80 women did kill Weinstein’s career by highlighting a pattern of harassment, assault, and abuse for which the former producer will most likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

When it comes to Dolly and the MeToo movement, she’s spoken out on 60 Minutes and shared her own stories of harassment and inappropriate behavior from the male-dominated country music scene she joined in the 1960s and 70s.


“Well, I certainly got hit on a lot, and a lot of men thought I was as silly as a look to guess. You know, I look like a woman, but I think like a man. And in this world of business, that has helped me a lot. Because by the time they think that I don't know what's going on, I done got the money and gone.” - Dolly Parton (60 Minutes)

9 to 5 Playbill

Well, with 9 to 5 the Musical Dolly, the creatives, and the producers were certainly hoping it would make good money. When the show finally opened at the Marquis on April 30th, it ended a very busy 2008-2009 Broadway season, which proved to be amazingly resilient in the face of an international recession. And in competing for audience dollars, 9 to 5 was not only up against new musicals like Next to Normal, Jason Robert Brown’s 13, and the 1980s-infused Rock of Ages, but there were also two other movies turned into musicals that season, Shrek and Billy Elliot, which both had budgets twice that of 9 to 5 … and more importantly reviews twice as good.


Overall, critics were mixed in their assessment of Dolly's music and the show as a whole. The New York Daily News thought the "bouncy, big-hearted songs" were "fresh and original.” The Guardian went so far as to call it “a triumph,” yet The NY Times dismissed the show out of hand as an "overinflated whoopee cushion” while Variety summed it up by calling 9 to 5 an “uneven cut-and-paste job” with the “promising material and terrific performers often sold short by clumsy story-building, overwhelming sets, and unfocused direction.”

Despite its uneven reception by the critics, the show did rack up four Tony nominations a month after opening: Best Leading Actress for Allison Janney, Best Featured Actor for Marc Kudisch, Best Choreography for Andy Blankenbuehler, and Best Original Score for Dolly Parton. 9 to 5 also received 15 nominations at the Drama Desk Awards, which broke the record for most nominations ever for a single show. In addition, the musical received 3 from the Outer Critics Circle, 2 from the Drama League, and a single Grammy nomination for Best Musical Show Album. However, out of 26 total nominations for the show in 2009, Allison Janney’s Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical was its only win.

“9 to 5 has been relatively snubbed by the theatre community since it opened this spring. Both in reviews and at the Tony Awards, this show hasn't received much positive attention considering it's a big expensive production with big impressive names attached. It has, however, received a great audience response, and when I saw the show the house was packed and the audience was having a blast.” - Molly Marinik (Theatre is Easy)


I also saw the show in the summer of 2009 and thoroughly enjoyed myself, especially those three leading ladies. Before the Tony Awards, audiences numbers were well over 10,000 a week, but afterwards they never reached that level again. As a result the show had a hard time covering its weekly expenses, much less even making a profit. The cast remained optimistic, but eventually reality caught up with them.

Block, Janney, and Hilty bowing onstage

“Well, we thought, we have stars, we have a really fun show. We have a known entity in 9 to 5, which is a cult hit. People know it and love it, and it was very disappointing. And plus, we're also in the ginormous theater of the Marriott Marquis, which is notoriously difficult to fill those seats anyway. You start seeing those sales decline and the producing team having been, I think, over on the set and lighting budgets, and ticket sales not being what they would have wanted, I think they pulled the plug. - Lisa Howard


And so, after 24 previews and just 148 performances, 9 to 5 closed on Sept 6, 2009. As Dolly said to Billboard magazine: "The thing about Broadway is you could work four years and close the next night — or never open at all. Everything’s a chance.”


The Tour and Beyond

Well, the following year, the producers took a chance with director Jeff Calhoun to completely reimagine the show for a US national tour production. This Tony-nominated choreographer had choreographed one of Marquis Theatre’s few hit musicals, the 1999 revival of Annie Get Your Gun, and he had directed and choreographed a revival of Big River in 2003. So he was asked to join 9 to 5, and was given carte blanche freedom to overhaul the entire show…with the approval of Dolly and Patricia of course.


Dolly Parton with 9 to 5 US Tour director Jeff Calhoun
Dolly Parton with Jeff Calhoun

Well, he cut some songs and moved songs to other places and gave a more concise through-line to the whole show. And his version hit the road on September 21, 2010, opening in Dolly's home town of Nashville, Tennessee. Variety said that this touring production benefited from Calhoun’s swift and streamlined pacing. The Denver Post was even more emphatic:

“9 to 5 punched out early after just four months on Broadway in 2009. But it wasn’t given a retirement party and put out to pasture. Instead, it underwent remedial training, and a much-improved version helmed by Jeff Calhoun was sent out on the road. It’s a safe bet that if New York audiences had seen the infectious and uplifting version that charmed the Liquid Paper off Denverites at the opening performance at Buell Theatre, “9 to 5” might still be working overtime on the Great White Way.”


Instead, the musical is working overtime overseas. 9 to 5 made its West End debut in 2019 and its run there was cut short only because of the pandemic. The third national tour in the United Kingdom just wrapped up last year as did the Australian production. So suffice it to say, this musical has poured itself a cup of ambition, and has continued to make a living since leaving Broadway…and the confines of the Marquis Theatre.


promotional graphics of 9 to 5 for the London production


 
Closing Night theater history podcast cover art

Closing Night is a production of WINMI Media with Patrick Oliver Jones as host and executive producer. Dan Delgado is the editor and co-producer, not only for this podcast but also for his own movie podcast as well called The Industry, which I highly recommend. Maria Clara Ribeiro is co-producer. Thank you to those who contributed to this episode: Lisa Howard, Christy Williamson, our very own Dan Delgado, and the various theater news outlets. Join us next time as another production makes its way to closing night.

 

Sources and materials used to create this episode...

Dolly Parton

The Film

The Song

The Musical

Background Music

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