Theatre Lawrence's working-class '9 to 5' celebrates women and community
"Women's Lib" was all but defeated.The year was 1980, and the 27th Amendment to the Constitution, also known as the Equal Rights Amendment, was effectively dead. The Republican party had pulled support for the ERA from its official platform, only 35 of the required 38 states had ratified it, and a large coalition of varied interests had lined up against it. Despite the deadline having been extended from 1979 to 1982, there was no hope three more states would come on board before time expired.
Into this world came a spunky film headlined by three of the most successful female entertainers of the time - Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, and Jane Fonda. Set in the workplace, the movie chronicles three put-upon women struggling under the yoke of a tyrannical boss played with over-the-top delight by Dabney Coleman. The trio kidnap their bigoted tormentor and hold him prisoner while they transform the office into a place people like working.
Driven by an uptempo, working-class theme song by Parton, "9 to 5" was a huge hit.
"It was really more a reflection of what happened pop culturally," says Doug Weaver, who's directing the Broadway musical adaptation of the show at Theatre Lawrence that opens Friday night. "It didn't change anything."
The story concerns three very different women - Violet, a career woman continually passed over for promotion because she's not a man; Doralee, personal secretary to the rotten Mr. Hart, who often sexually harasses her; and Judy, a recent divorcee, who is thrust into the work force after having depended on men to take care of her most of her life. Each is abused by Hart, and each is on a quest for personal dignity.
"All of them are on a very personal journey," Weaver notes, "but they discover they have to work together for them to get what they're after."
To put the show in the proper historical perspective, Weaver focused on creating the underdog atmosphere for the three women. They are each one of them long-suffering, and they are each likeable. They are people audiences want to root for.
"They just want a fair shot," he says. "They're not looking for anything special. They just want to be recognized for what they contribute and get the respect they feel they've earned."
"9 to 5" captures the spirit of the time it represents - a period when women were fighting for simple respect and to be treated as equals in business. More than that, though, it is a story of the triumph of the human spirit.
"I think I'm attracted to this kind of thing," Weaver says, an appreciative smile coming over his face. "Shows about coming together as a community and a family. That's what this show is. It's about three women discovering they can't do it alone, but, if they work together, they can all succeed."
That's what he hopes audiences take away - a sense of the importance of family.
"I hope they leave whistling at least one of the tunes and that they go away entertained," he says, "but if people get anything out of it, I hope it's the sense that nobody does it alone; we work better as a team."
"9 to 5" opens Friday and runs September 21, 22, 23, 27, 28, 29, 30, and October 4, 5, 6, 7. Performances begin at 7:30pm, except on Sundays, when curtain is at 2:30pm. Tickets are available by calling Theatre Lawrence at 785-843-7469 or online at www.theatrelawrence.com.