Dolly Parton, Working '9 To 5' To Get To Broadway 9 to 5 will be one of several Hollywood imports on Broadway this year. But it has one thing the others won't: a country superstar — who helped make 1980's big-screen comedy a smash — writing the songs.
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Dolly Parton, Working '9 To 5' To Get To Broadway

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Dolly Parton, Working '9 To 5' To Get To Broadway

Dolly Parton, Working '9 To 5' To Get To Broadway

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F: The Musical." Its out-of-town tryout opens tonight in Los Angeles, and reporter Jeff Lunden says the show has something special in its favor. The songs are by Dolly Parton.


DOLLY PARTON: (Singing) Working nine to five, what a way to make living. Barely getting by, it's all taking and no giving. They just use your mind, and they never give you credit...

JEFF LUNDEN: When the movie "Nine To Five" starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton came out in 1980, it was a gigantic hit, as was the title song written and performed by Dolly Parton.


PARTON: (Singing) You would think that I would deserve a fair promotion. Want to move ahead, but the boss won't seem to let me.

LUNDEN: The comedy about three secretaries who take revenge on their sexist boss has become a perennial on cable TV and something of a cultural touchstone. Five years ago, producer Robert Greenblatt decided he wanted to put the story on stage.

ROBERT GREENBLATT: It just struck me that that could make a good musical, primarily because it has this musical signature, you know, the theme song which is so identified with the movie. And I thought if we could take that feeling and translate it to other moments in the show and other characters, then it might turn into a musical.

LUNDEN: Greenblatt enlisted the writer of the screenplay, Patricia Resnick, to work on the show. And the two of them flew to Nashville to ask Dolly Parton if she'd like to write the score.

PARTON: And I jumped at the chance. I said, I've never done a musical, I don't know that much about Broadway. And I've seen some shows, and I've certainly seen a few musicals on TV, or I've seen a few movies, I said. But I'll give it a try. I said, I will not be offended, though, if it don't turn out, because it's new to me. So I said, don't feel bad if it don't work, and I won't, either, I said. But I'll give it a whirl.

LUNDEN: Parton retreated to her country lake house and began to write songs, a couple dozen in a couple of weeks says scriptwriter Patricia Resnick.

PATRICIA RESNICK: From there, she did that first run of songs, which were a lot. I mean, we got this CD with all these songs on it, and I stuck in the car CD player. And my kids in two minutes were immediately singing half of them, so I knew we were in good shape.


W: (Singing) Shine like the sun. When the crying's all done, When the lying's all done, When the trying's all done, There'll be nothing but fun. When it's all said and done...

LUNDEN: Now the show is on the stage of the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, in a multi-million-dollar production starring "The West Wing's" Allison Janney, before it opens in New York this spring. Producer Robert Greenblatt says the creators have had to tread a fine line between making the musical its own creation and satisfying audiences who know every single word of the movie.

GREENBLATT: We didn't want any shock of, oh, you know, what happened to that character? And there's several iconic lines in the screenplay that we could feel the audience waiting for and applauding when they hear them. So we wanted to make sure all those were there. But, you know, we've made a lot of changes. And at the end of the day, I think people will look at it and go, oh, that's really close to the movie; which I think is the goal.


MEGAN HILTY: (As Doralee) I've got a gun out there in my purse and up 'til now I've been forgiving and forgetting, because that's the way I was brought up. But I swear, you say one more word about me, and I'll get that gun of mine, and I'll change you from a rooster to a hen with one shot.


LUNDEN: Actress Megan Hilty is having the ultimate meta-experience working on "9 to 5." She plays Doralee, Dolly Parton's character in the film, sings Dolly Parton's songs, and has to do all of this while Dolly Parton watches. But Hilty says the star has been gracious.

HILTY: She is the nicest human being on the planet, the most ironically real person you'd ever meet in your whole life. And she's been so supportive. And literally the moment I met her, I knew that we could just have fun with it.


PARTON: (Singing) I'm just a backwoods Barbie in a push-up bra and heels. I might look artificial, but where it counts I'm real...

LUNDEN: Of course, the songs Dolly Parton has written for Doralee very much reflect Parton's country music roots and the folksy character she played. But she says she found it surprisingly easy to write for the other characters.

PARTON: I was shocked myself that I drew from this well I didn't even know I had dug. You know, I could have just as well dug a grave for myself, I think, as well. And I write all sorts of songs, anyway.

LUNDEN: Like a big second act power ballad for Judy, the shy divorcee who discovers her strength and independence. Jane Fonda played the role in the film, and Stephanie J. Block plays her in the musical.


STEPHANIE J: (Singing) Get out, and stay out. I've finally had enough. Don't kiss me on your way out. It won't involve me much...

LUNDEN: Getting "9 to 5" to the stage hasn't been without its bumps. Several previews were canceled because the production is so technically complex. The set is literally moving almost every second. And actress Allison Janney says it was handy to have Dolly Parton in the audience when that set ground to a halt in the middle of the very first performance.

ALLISON JANNEY: We had to stop for 45 minutes, and she got up there and sang "I Will Always Love You." I mean, the audience got this impromptu wonderful Dolly concert.

LUNDEN: Whatever the critical reception for "9 to 5," Dolly Parton says she's gotten the theater bug.

PARTON: So I'm going to be doing more musicals, for sure. But they are going to all be projects of my own - born and raised out of my own gut and my own soul and my own head.

LUNDEN: "9 to 5: The Musical" opens in L.A. tonight. It opens on Broadway in April. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in Los Angeles.

: To hear what Dolly Parton has to say about men and women in the workplace today, you can come to our Web site,


PARTON: (Singing) I grew up poor and ragged, just a simple country girl. I wanted to be pretty more than anything in the world. Like Barbie or the models in the Frederick's catalog. From rags to wishes in my dreams, I could have it all. I'm just a backwoods Barbie, too much makeup...

: This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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