Franklin Hart Jr. is a terrible boss.
He’s sexist and hypocritical. Bigoted and deceitful. A real creep.
It’s no wonder that in the hit 1980 movie “9 to 5” – and in the 2009 Broadway musical based on the film – Hart gets what’s coming to him. Three smart and put-upon secretaries kidnap him then assume his identity at work, instituting workplace reforms that improve productivity and morale. Their story is coming to Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre tonight for an eight-day run.
The Coeur d’Alene production is directed by Christian Duhamel, last seen dancing upside down as Burt in “Mary Poppins.” It stars Vanessa Miller as Violet (the Lily Tomlin role), Charissa Bertels as Judy (the Jane Fonda part), and Darcy Wright as Doralee (the Dolly Parton role). Mark Cotter, who’s been in more than a dozen CST productions, plays Hart.
Set in the 1970s, long before desktop computing and sexual harassment workshops revolutionized the American workplace, the issues presented remain relevant, Miller said.
“While the language may be different, I think underneath a lot of the biases or leanings toward men still exist,” she said.
Duhamel said one of the best things about revisiting a story that is now 33 years old is being able to look back and laugh at ourselves.
“There’s a truth that is laughable, that at some point we thought that (behavior) was appropriate,” he said. “It’s like a little time machine to go back not hundreds of years, just 33, to see what it was like.”
There is a challenge in walking into roles so closely associated with strong performers, Miller said. As such, people shouldn’t expect her to do a Lily Tomlin impersonation.
“But at the same time, the language is sharp and it has a fast-paced quality to it, and there’s a lot of humor there,” she said, “so I think the audiences will quickly get used to the new characters on stage and they’ll forget about the celebrities.”
Bertels added, “It’s empowering because you know they’re great roles. They were embodied by really great women so you feel invited to be a really great woman yourself.”
But it’s still a comedy, Bertels added.
“That’s what’s so great,” she said. “There’s a mixture of empowerment and that message for women, but there’s also a lot of humor so it’s not so Debbie Downer. … It’s still a musical. People are going to have a great time.’
The 1980 film was Parton’s screen debut – and she was nominated for an Oscar for writing the theme song. It’s only natural, then, that she wrote new songs when the movie transitioned from the big screen to the stage.
While people associate “9 to 5” the movie with Parton’s hit song, the film was not a musical. Duhamel said those familiar with the film will find that the musical is not a carbon copy. Much of story has been consolidated to make way for those new Parton songs, which Duhamel categorizes as “country pop.”
“Dolly wrote the songs and Dolly can write a really good song, and you will leave with these songs stuck in your head whether you like it or not,” Duhamel said. “I’m thinking of ‘I Just Might.’ We get these up-tempo pop songs, then she just gives us a few great ballads. And in this production it’s all the women who sing on that, and it’s really a powerful moment in the show that reminds us of the heart underneath it.”