Here’s a story of a lascivious boss harassing the women who work for him and women fed up about the abuse, who revolt to empower themselves and change the system that enables him.
No, it’s not another post-Weinstein news report about another powerful man and his #MeToo comeuppance. It’s Aspen Community Theatre’s production of the Dolly Parton-inspired musical comedy “9 to 5.” The musical, inspired by the 1980 film, debuted on Broadway in 2009 with music and lyrics by Parton.
This timely show opens Friday at the Aspen District Theatre and runs through Nov. 16.
“I thought it would be great to do now, because of the #MeToo movement, and it’s still relevant and that stuff is still going on,” said director and choreographer Paula Makar, who the company recruited from Music Theatre Wichita to oversee the community theater production.
She and the creative team haven’t made any editorial changes to the show to speak more directly to current events and the ongoing revelations of institutional sexism. This bawdy, broad comedy does the work on its own.
“If we tell the story right, then it comes through and we don’t have to explain it,” Makar said.
The story follows three office workers — Judy, Doralee and Violet — as they plot to take revenge on their boss, a comic villain whose character is summed up in one song as a “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot.”
Last fall, when Aspen Community Theatre boardmember Travis Lane McDiffett was traveling to Utah to pick up the set for the production of “Big River,” he spent the trip listening to cast recordings of Broadway musicals. Hearing “9 to 5” made him snap to attention.
“I said, ‘This is so relevant to what is going on in the world right now,’” he recalled. “It was one of those ah-hah moments.”
Katrina Klawiter plays Doralee, the buxom hillbilly secretary role originated Dolly Parton in the film. Apart from nailing the “Backwoods Barbie” twang and accent, embodying the country music legend, Katwiler said, is all in the attitude.
“It’s all about confidence,” she said. “She knows who she is and she makes no apologies, which I love. It’s a lot of fun being someone who owns and loves who they are.”
Audience members will all recognize Parton’s opening title song, here performed by the full ensemble, but the high points for Klawiter are the trios shares with Amy Kaiser, playing the newly divorced and new to the workforce Judy, and Dani Grace Kopf as the seen-it-all office manager Violet. The first-act songs “I Just Might” and “Shine Like the Sun” track the characters’ arc from taking abuse to taking charge.
“Ultimately it becomes an empowerment story,” said Kaiser. “It’s really about the strength of the three women.”
These three juicy female parts and the big ensemble cast were among the reasons that Aspen Community Theatre’s board chose “9 to 5” for 2019, as it affords female performers the opportunity to shine following two years of shows — “Spamalot” in 2017 and “Big River” last year — without many big parts for female actors.
The cast of 22 includes the Aspen Community Theatre debut of Danielle Coulter, a local singer and actor with cerebral palsy who got her start as a kid performing with Challenge Aspen and has in recent years landed parts with Theatre Masters’ Take Ten and in the Aspen Noise choir.
Aspen Country Day School’s music and theater director Brandon Joseph, chewing scenery as the buffoonishly horrible boss Franklin Hart, also is making his local community theater debut.
A scene-stealer among the supporting cast may be Tammy Baar, who plays Hart’s loyal and lusting assistant Roz (“the office bitch and the office snitch” in Baar’s words) who performs the over-the-top showstopper “Heart to Hart.” Baar is a familiar face onstage at Aspen Community Theatre, having made her first appearance as a high schooler in the company’s first show — “and yet another version of Wizard of Oz” in 1976 — but this is a change of pace.
Baar is known to kids throughout the Roaring Fork Valley as Buttons the Clown. She’s played sweet and motherly parts, including Mrs. Potts in “Beauty and the Beast” and Mother Abbess in “The Sound of Music.” Here, she gets to be a little ridiculous and randy.
“I wanted this part because I knew it would be really hard for me and really fun,” Baar said.
“This has been way out of my comfort zone,” she added, noting that she won’t be inviting her elementary school-aged theater and music students to the show. “If they see me being orgasmic onstage, they may never get over that.”
The cast started rehearsing the “9 to 5” music in mid-September, first nailing down the songs in seven days of rehearsal before incorporating the choreography, full scenes and then set changes. The set, rented from Wichita, may be the largest and most complex that Aspen Community Theatre has worked with.
At a rehearsal last week, cast and crewmembers were finalizing the intricate puzzle of coordinated moves to reconfigure the massive and manifold set pieces — there are office sets, a library, home sets, bathrooms, a full-sized car, etc. — while the scene shop was a hive of sewing and ironing (and, appropriate to the show’s subject matter, the costume crew discussing the revelations in Ronan Farrow’s new book-length #MeToo expose).
Along with Makar, the director, another fresh face on the creative team this year is music director Ben McMurray. The classical pianist and music teacher moved to the valley three years ago with Americorps, and played in the pit orchestra in last year’s production of “Big River.”
He is leading a 10-piece orchestra playing Parton’s country, R&B and showtune mash-up of a score.
“The music is challenging but it is accessible,” he said. “All of it sits in the ear, it’s these great melodies and super-fun writing.”
Aspen isn’t the only place recognizing “9 to 5” and its relevance. A revival of the show is currently running in London’s West End and the original film will be the subject of a recently announced documentary titled “Still Working 9 to 5.”