The year was 1980. Working women and shoulder pads were reaching their height in the business world. And the film, Nine to Five, starring Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and breakout star Dolly Parton, showed how simple it was to break the glass ceiling – and possibly the law – when holding your sexist boss hostage.
Thirty years later, the three live on in a musical adaptation being performed at Fort Wayne Civic Theatre on Saturday.
It’s about having some fun and some grit, director Dianne Shaw says. I want to highlight the fact that there was a glass ceiling in 1979 and women had to deal with sexism in the workplace, but we can laugh about it.
The story centers on three co-workers – Violet, Doralee and Judy – who have to tolerate the undesirable advances and schemes of their boss, Franklin Hart, in a corporate office. The three women conspire to take control of the company and their own lives.
In the musical rendition of the classic chick flick, the story is elevated with a full night of music written by Parton, who was also behind the film’s title song.
You always want to entertain and provoke some thinking, and with this era, it’s about women’s rights, says Aimee Lackey, who plays Violet. People can see how far we’ve come and how (far) we have left to go.
Lackey, a mother working as a dental hygienist by day and an actress in the play by night, says juggling her schedule has been a challenge, but the experience helps her relate to her character who is a single mother with aspirations of climbing the corporate ladder.
I can totally relate. I can relate to having to take care of bills, the house and running kids around, she says. Violet takes action for the better.
Patricia Resnick, one of the writers behind the screenplay for Nine to Five, adapted the story to be a staged musical, which debuted in Los Angeles in 2008 and premiered on Broadway in 2009. The musical has brought a new life to the story; a national yearlong tour was launched in 2010, and currently the production is touring the United Kingdom.
You get something livelier and peppier with the musical, Shaw says. I think the music was a highlight of the movie, and that’s what brings the excitement in terms of live theater.
Shaw, who worked with Civic Theatre for the first time last year for the production of Dream Girls, says that in her experience in working with a predominately female cast, she has found a common language with her actresses.
From my perspective, we as women have our own vocabulary, our own way of dealing with each other, she says. It’s just the way we talk about what these three women had to go through – I get the frustration, and the actresses know that I get it.
Kent Bixler, who plays the villainous boss, says that living in a household with a wife and two daughters has given him more than enough experience in working with women.
The challenge was embracing the role as the bad guy.
If the audience doesn’t hate half of my guts then I haven’t done my job. It’s a harder character to play because you have to be really mean to everybody – you have to be self-centered and egoistical, he says. I try to do little things to make them (the three women) feel aggravated because they feed off of that wrath.
Lackey says that Bixler is nailing the character completely.
You definitely want to put him in his place, she says.
Although the story’s focus is aimed at women, Meagan Solloway, who plays Doralee, says that everyone can take a lesson from the show. Behind the laughs, she believes there is a powerful story about camaraderie and being true to yourself.
It goes beyond a chick flick – it’s about a sense of identity, she says. It reaches out to women, but it touches a broader audience as well.