It’s not exactly the gospel according to Dolly Parton, but the saint of the South is a presence in “9 to 5,” the latest production from the Benson Foundation for the Arts.
Parton starred in the 1980 film of the same name and nearly 30 years later wrote the music and lyrics for a Broadway adaptation, which will make its Johnston County debut April 7 at the W.J. Barefoot Auditorium in Benson.
Benson Foundation for the Arts board member Hannah Jernigan said the company decided to put on “9 to 5” after another board member saw director Dennis Johnson’s production two years ago at Fayetteville Tech. Johnson will direct this production as well, making his debut in Benson and drawing on local talent along with actors from Cary and Fuquay-Varina to fill the 25-person cast.
“It’s such a great story, and it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Jernigan said. “Everybody loves Dolly, and it’s such a good movie.”
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When it hit theaters in 1980, “9 to 5” set a new standard for workplace hijinks films while also digging into sexism and gender inequality in the office.
Johnson described the boss character Franklin Hart, played by Troy Jolly, as your classic male chauvinist, running an office through bullying and firing people at will. He finds his match in the form of three women, Violet, played by Alice Cashwell, Judy, played by Kathleen Jacobs and Doralee, the role made famous by Parton and played on the Benson stage by Susan Parrish.
“It’s a fun show, there are a lot of good songs, and it’s very funny,” Johnson said. “It’s right along with the movie; I mean there’s very little difference.”
Parton wrote the music and lyrics for the musical production in 2009, but Johnson said that many of the themes and issues dealt with in “9 to 5” have remain relevant for 2017 audiences, for better or worse.
“It was right on the edge of things that were going on at the time,” Johnson said about the movie. “They pretty much hit right on it, and some of it exists today. One of the lines talks about men getting paid more than women. That’s something that’s been in the news recently. It still fits even though it’s 37 years later.”
The three women attempt to make the office a better place for everyone, which mostly means keeping Hart out of power. It all adds up to plenty of laughs, Jernigan said.
“Everybody dreams of the things they do to their boss, right?” Jernigan said.
The cast has rehearsed the show five nights a week for five weeks. With this being Johnson’s second direction of “9 to 5,” he said he was once again surprised by how difficult some of Parton’s songs are.
“I mean, they change key so much,” Johnson said. “It’s challenging because she writes for herself. So if you’ve got a range, I guess you can do that.”
Stepping into Dolly’s role is Susan Parrish, who has quite a range herself and mixes in a bit of twang. Parrish said she wasn’t even planning on auditioning until her daughter, who’s also in the show, convinced her to give it a shot. She said she wondered what she got herself into when she was cast as Doralee
“It’s not the biggest part, but it’s, you know, what everyone is coming to see,” Parrish said. “So no pressure.”
Parrish said she plans to channel her inner Dolly to a certain extent but also make the role her own.
“Nobody can be Dolly, right?” Parrish said. “She’s a legend, so I’m just trying to live up to her name.
The Benson Foundation for the Arts will put on three performances of “9 to 5”, at 7:30 p.m. April 7-8 and 3 p.m. April 9 . For more information or to reserve tickets, call 919-894-3825 or visit www.thebensonarts.com. Tickets are $12 each.