STORY WRITTEN BY DAVID KLEINMAN
For 21st Century Media
“Who hasn’t fantasized about killing the boss?” asks Tony-nominated Broadway actress Dee Hoty regarding her reprisal as Violet Newstead in the Walnut Street Theater’s production of “9 to 5: The Musical.”
Despite her character’s competence and potential, Violet’s just another one of the boss’s “girls” in a boy’s club, a single mother determined not to rock the boat while quietly demanding a little respect. That all changes when her fantasy comes to life and she thinks she’s nearly killed him.
While fetching her “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” of a boss a cup of coffee her character accidentally, although perhaps unconsciously, makes the fatal flaw of mixing up the sugar with the rat poison. He doesn’t die, and that’s where the fun begins. Determined not to get in trouble, Violet does what any reasonable person would do. She kidnaps him.
For Hoty, finding humor in the role of the long-suffering, under-promoted office worker is a hat she’s worn well, with a 31-city “9 to 5: The Musical” national tour as Violet under her belt with “American Idol” runner-up Diana DeGarmo in the role made famous by Dolly Parton and “Smash” star Megan Hilty on Broadway.
“I think I’m serving a sense of humor which Violet absolutely has and I hope I have a kind of grace about it all. No matter where you find yourself you have to find A. The humor and B. A kind of peace, if you will, about circumstances you may not be able to do anything about.”
When the film adaptation of “Nine to Five” first debuted in theaters more than 25 years ago legions of women got up and cheered when the misogynistic superior got his comeuppance and the women took over the office. Although a boss today like Violet’s would be on the business-end of a bevy of sexual harassment lawsuits, Hoty cites studies showing women continue to make a fraction of the money as their male equals as a reason why the material continues to resonate.
“It was a time when women didn’t get to run things, they weren’t thought of as people who could run an office. They weren’t promoted, they weren’t women. You were a secretary ‘til you got married and you went home and had your babies.”
Along with the antiquated ideals there’s a throwback to a bygone era in fashion some more serious offenders might rather leave in the past. There’s the handlebar mustaches, the big hair, the polyester. It’s enough of a time warp to make some more seasoned audience members want to go under their electric typewriters at home and hide.
What has aged particularly well is Dolly Parton’s songwriting abilities, nearly 30 years after penning the show’s #1 namesake tune she received a Tony nomination for her efforts back at the drawing board. Parton created nearly 40 songs for “9 to 5: The Musical” including “One of the Boys,” a track featuring Violet triumphantly declaring in her fantasy that “I don’t have to kiss ____ for the first time since I’ve been employed.”
“It’s Violet’s fantasy come true, she gets to be Chairman of the Board and then of course, at the end of the play, she actually does get to be CEO so it’s all great fun. The whole show is a gift as far as I’m concerned, it’s just a big ol’ piece of yummy.”
The modest Hody, who refuses to go as far as to call herself a triple-threat, will be displaying her singing, dancing and acting ability during her brief WST residency. It’s a far cry from the demanding schedule of a 10-month national tour, traveling from Sacramento, Calif. to Pittsburgh, and every little city in between.
“Performing is always a joy but it can also be quite lonely and a little alienating. You wonder where your life is because you’re in a little hotel de jour, traveling from pillar to post trying to make each space. You’re in [room] 2703 or wherever you are, you’re home.”
For Hoty and company, home will be a six-weeks-plus residency at the WST. It’s a welcome return to the WST stage for Hoty, who last staged “State Fair” nearly a decade ago with her “9 to 5: The Musical” director Bruce Lumpkin.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “9 to 5: The Musical”
WHEN: Sept. 2 through Oct. 19, at the Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut St., Philadelphia.
TICKETS: $20 – $95
INFO.: For tickets call (215) 574-3550 or check www.walnutstreettheatre.org.