Fresh out of college and working as a server in New York’s restaurant scene, Kate Yost faced her first kink in on-the-job teamwork. As her table bristled over their half-hour wait for food, she asked the manager—several times—to go speak with the party. When he did, finally, they cursed her out, and her boss saddled her with all the blame.
“You can do everything right, and still people turn the tables on you,” Yost says. “I hadn’t even thought of that story until this moment, and how much that is, like, ‘ugh’ on your heart.”
The actress will channel that memory of her first adult lesson in bad-boss non-leadership into her performance of office newcomer Judy in New Stage Theatre’s upcoming production of “9 to 5, The Musical,” which will open on May 24 and run through June 5.
Such niggling workplace microaggressions—doughnut and coffee duty, blame games, condescending conversations and more—can often wear like sandpaper on the soul. A key difference in “9 to 5, The Musical,” though, is these offenses end up fueling friendship, revenge and the laughter from the audience that comes with “been there, suffered that” recognition.
Humor That Maintains, Message That Resonates
Based on the 1980 hit film starring Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, the musical packs in even more songs and music from Parton, whose original titular tune won two Grammy Awards and earned an Oscar nomination in the early 1980s.
Like its source, the musical adaptation is set in the late 1970s, amid the swell of women in the workplace that accompanied the women’s liberation movement. Forty-plus years down the road, it not only still works, cast members say. It sings.
“I think the humor maintains,” Sharon Miles, who plays Violet, says. “And the relevance of the story maintains, because people are still navigating jobs, daily—navigating relationships at work and bosses and all those things.”
“With this story being such an empowering story for women, it’s really going to play well to the 2022 audience,” Miles says. “It’s going to resonate with all of us.”
“Sadly, I wish it was more of a satire,” director Randy Redd muses. “So much of this, it’s not dated at all, and I think that’s why it’s been so successful since they turned it into a musical.”
“9 to 5, The Musical” premiered in Los Angeles in 2008, opened on Broadway the following year, and has since earned nominations for 15 Drama Desk Awards and four Tony Awards. It’s been on tour, played in London and is returning to tour in the fall, Redd explains.
“It does really well everywhere it goes because I think we can laugh at it, but you can also catch yourself in the middle of that laugh and think, ‘Oh God, this is still very relevant and feels very current,’” he says.
In the story, three women become fed up with their sexist, egotistical, pompous and hypocritical boss. His poor behavior pushing them to the limit, they join forces to get even.
The trio of coworkers includes the highly capable and long passed-over office manager Violet (MIles); newly separated and new to the working world Judy (Yost); and the sexy, happily married Doralee (Sara Thomas Easley), whom others have ostracized in the secretarial pool thanks to a rumor her boss spread.
The Office Trio and Heart of the Show
The women bringing these characters to the stage act with cheerleader-like zeal behind their tasks. “She’s really strong and independent,” Miles says of her character, Violet. “She’s a problem-solver because life circumstances have not given her other options. She figures it out, and she charges in.”
“(Judy) is insecure to start off with, but I think, like Violet, she’s a problem-solver,” Yost weighs in. “She’s always coming up with these ideas that are wild, but for her, it’s like the first time she’s been able to think and speak. I feel like she was told as a kid, ‘You’re being too loud,’ a lot of the time. So this is her stepping in and coming into her own. She starts out as insecure, but at the end confident and … centered in herself.”
“Doralee is just so true to herself,” Easley says. “She really doesn’t care what other people think about her. She doesn’t understand why people maybe don’t like her, but she always stays true to herself. She’s just a fun-loving, caring person.”
Easley asserts that each woman who watches the musical should be able to resonate with one of the three characters.
“And even if you don’t see yourself in one of us, we’ve all had that universal feeling of being stuck where you are and not knowing the next step and feeling like (asking), ‘How do I get out of this situation?’” Yost says. “At least for Judy, you see her at her bottom, and you see how she crawls her way to the top and finds that through her community.”
Yost describes the heart evident in the show as the musical’s best quality, and the production’s strong ensemble efficiently transitions from each scene to the next.
“It’s not just the heart of the show itself; it’s the heart of this company,” Redd says. The director’s creative, conceptual approach to the project relies on the ensemble and full cast to make this “massive” show move through nonstop scene changes while fluidly telling the story. “Everybody in this show is really, really busy.”
The cast boasts 16 actors playing 38 roles in the musical, with eight comprising the core office bullpen but strapping on two or three roles apiece. “I feel like we’re making it a little snappier,” Redd posits.
Women’s Ingenuity and Heroic Influence
In what Redd happily describes as a “good, old-fashioned caper musical,” the women get themselves in a tough spot from which they then have to work their way out. Capers and female-driven comedies like “I Love Lucy,” “Bewitched” and “Bridesmaids” rank among his favorites.
“Women are hilarious, and they get themselves into messes and figure it out in a way that guys can’t,” he says. “There’s an ingenuity to it, and an instinct and a way to lean on each other. They count on each other in a way that dudes, really, would never lean on another dude to help get out of a situation.
“We get to see them come together and figure this out,” he continues. “So, it is this light, bright caper comedy that has a lot to say.”
Redd’s previous project for New Stage Theatre was “Sweet Potato Queens – The Musical,” another women-centric comedy with heart at its core. He and New Stage Theatre Artistic Director Francine Reynolds even discussed whether she should find a female director for “9 to 5.”
“We said that we would go into this hand-in-hand,” Redd says, chuckling and adding that he has an all-women team around him in the crew with whom he can consult.
Director Redd lauds his primarily Mississippi-based cast and ensemble, offering a shout-out to choreographer Taylor Newby’s “inventive, clever and hilarious” work, as well as the set design that longtime collaborator and friend Amanda Rehbein put together. “(Rehbein) created this world for us to play in that just feels epic,” he praises.
The story of three strong women standing up for themselves and taking charge hits home, he adds.
“Truly, the heroes in my life are women,” Redd says. “I think back to everybody that made me and gave me everything that I have today are the strongest women I know. That’s what I lean on, and that’s what I look to, and that’s what I hope that I’m celebrating here.”
Performances for “9 to 5, The Musical” will open on May 24 and run through June 5 at New Stage Theatre (1100 Carlisle St., Jackson). Shows on Tuesday through Saturday begin at 7:30 p.m., and shows on Sundays begin at 2 p.m.
Fully vaccinated audience viewings—with attendees required to provide proof of vaccination, including for all children—will be observed on May 25, May 27, May 28, May 31, June 3 and June 5. Proof of vaccination is not required at other days’ shows. General admission is $35, while tickets for students, seniors and military are $25.