Blonde Ambition

Based on the 1980 movie of the same name, Dolly Parton’s musical “9 to 5” readies for its Virginia Rep debut.

Since finding fame five decades ago, Dolly Parton has never been far from the public eye, but lately it seems like she’s everywhere.

She’s been the focus of podcasts and documentaries, TV series and filmed performances. After initially declining the offer, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2022. Last Thanksgiving, she performed the halftime show at the Washington Commanders and Dallas Cowboys’ NFL game. Perhaps best of all, she funded the critical early stages of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine with a $1 million donation.

And now, her musical “9 to 5” is being staged in Richmond by Virginia Rep. Adapted from the 1980 movie starring Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, “9 to 5” concerns three female coworkers who decide to get even with their chauvinistic supervisor.

“They forge an unlikely friendship in the face of their sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot of a boss,” explains local actress Susan Sanford, who plays Violet Newstead in the show.

When Violet is passed up for a promotion that she deserves — and a male subordinate gets the job instead — she decides to get revenge.

“She is still considered a secretary, even though she is a senior supervisor,” Sanford says. “She knows more than most of the people who are her supervisors in the office, and yet she feels like the glass ceiling is preventing her from moving forward.”

Photo credit: Jay Paul

Sanford says fans of the movie be pleased with the musical version, which features music and lyrics by Parton and a book by Patricia Resnick.

“It’s very faithful to the film. There are lines from the film that are directly taken and put into the show,” Sanford says. “Overall, if you’ve seen the film, and that’s what you’re hoping to see, that is what you’re going to get with really, really wonderful songs added to it.”

A box office smash when it was released more than four decades ago, the movie version of “9 to 5” was a bigger hit than some anticipated.

“Dolly Parton had never been in a movie and was not considered an actor at all, and everybody was amazed at how funny she was,” says Deb Clinton, the director of Virginia Rep’s show. “Lily Tomlin was not a household name, and Jane Fonda was known as an activist. The teaming of them together really worked.”

Clinton says the musical version is more family-oriented than the movie but retains much of the original’s DNA.

“It’s a story of friendship and people coming together to make the community better,” Clinton says. “It’s a screwball comedy in that the situations are improbable, but the people and their relationships are real.”

Playing Doralee Rhodes, Parton’s part in the movie, is New York-based actress Katie Goffman. She’s enjoyed stepping into Parton’s pumps.

“It’s been so much fun,” she says. “My wig’s great. I have a Texas accent and I’m full Dolly. I’ve got my nails done and I’m ready to go.”

Goffman says audiences will be charmed by many elements of the show, including its choreography.

“The dance numbers are fantastic,” Goffman says. “We’ve got tap dancing and people are in the office dancing. There’s these three fantasy sequences where we step into the girls’ minds. I have a cowgirl revenge number, Violet has a number where she’s dressed up as Snow White. The whole show is fun from start to finish.”

Last summer, Goffman appeared with her husband Devon in Virginia Rep’s “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” This time around, her husband will play the misogynistic boss Franklin Hart.

“He’s chasing me around the desk and I tie him up,” Katie Goffman says. “It’s been pretty funny and fun to play these two roles opposite each other onstage.”

Sanford says the show will charm audiences of all ages.

“You’re going to laugh, you’re going to be moved, you’re going to dance in your seat,” she says. “It’s a really, really fun time at the theater, and you’re going to leave with a smile on your face. I feel like that’s what everybody needs right now.”

Virginia Rep’s “9 to 5” runs June 21-Aug. 4 at the November Theatre, 114 W. Broad St. For more information, visit va-rep.org or call (804) 282-2620.

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