Dolly Parton finds life goes well beyond ‘9 to 5’
By Hedy weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org January 13, 2011 12:36PM
Dolly Parton | AP
‘9 To 5, THE MUSICAL’
♦ Jan. 18-30
♦ Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe
♦ Tickets, $32-$95
♦ (800) 775-2000; BroadwayInChicago.com
Updated: April 19, 2011 5:32AM
‘Hello, this is Dolly Parton.”
The voice of the early morning caller was almost too good to be true. And not only did it come on the dot of the pre-arranged time, but it arrived with a pitch so perfect, and with a lilting musicality so filled with the infectious ebullience and mountain girl charm that has beguiled audiences for decades, that it was difficult to believe it was altogether real.
Of course it was the authentic Dolly, and she did not disappoint. That is just a big part of who this self-described “5-foot-one-inch woman with the appetite of a 6-foot-six-inch man” happens to be.
Full disclosure: Though an unrepentant, born-and-bred urban rat, I have been enchanted by this multi-talented lady from the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee for as long as I can remember. True, I might opt for black when she chooses pastels and glitter. But as she has recounted, as a girl she would leaf through the pages of the Sears Roebuck catalogue (or what she dubbed her “wish book”), just as I would comb the pages of Vogue magazine. And there is a kinship in that.
The subject of our chat is neither a new album (though she is recording one set for a spring release), nor a movie role (though she is magic on screen), nor a children’s book (though she has plenty of ideas for those), nor a business (though Dollywood continues to thrive, and she is at work on both cosmetics and furniture enterprises), nor a philanthropic venture (though her passion is supporting childhood literacy). Rather, the conversation is primarily about her first score for a Broadway show — “9 to 5, The Musical” — which opened in New York in 2009, and is now on a national tour that will play Jan. 18-30 at the Bank of America Theatre.
Based on the popular 1980 movie that starred Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, and whose quasi-feminist plot line revolves around three corporate secretaries trying to deal with their obnoxious boss, the musical features a book by Patricia Resnick (co-writer of the original screenplay), and a score by Parton that picks up where her platinum-certified title song for the film left off.
Parton confesses that her introduction to the whole world of Broadway musicals came relatively late.
“Sure, I saw some of the great movie musicals when I was young,” she said. “But in 1964, when I went to New York for the first time with my high school class, I only got to the movies — it was to see ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,’ and it was a real big deal for me. But I also remember the show ‘Hello Dolly’ was just coming out at the time, and there were signs for it all over the place, and I thought they were welcoming me to the city. Later I wanted to do a countrified version of that show —the same songs, but with a bluegrass flavor. It never happened, but I really am Dolly [Levi] in a way.”
Acknowledging that “9 to 5, the Musical” lasted barely five months on Broadway, Parton noted “the production is a little less grandiose on the road, which is more fitting for the story.” She also said she found the whole process of penning Broadway songs “liberating” in some ways.
“A good song is a good song, with a strong beginning, middle and end,” she said. “You’ve got to keep it interesting, and cover the territory. But what was most appealing to me, and most different, was that Broadway songs are not as structured as pop and country ones, and you can take them beyond the usual three minutes. It was fun to ramble a bit, and to bring more depth to the characters and subject.”
Parton approaches the writing of each song, no matter what the genre, somewhat differently.
“I generally write on the guitar, but I also use the piano alot,” she said. “I’m not a great musician, but I can play well enough, and I’ll just head to one of those instruments if a wonderful melody pops into my head. I also always keep a little cassette player handy.
“For the lyrics there are my yellow legal pads, and I keep a notepad at my bedside because I never remember things the next day as I think I will. I write in longhand and like seeing my work without using my glasses. Words and titles come to me all the time; I have lists of them. And often I’ll just start pickin’ and singin,’ putting down a song, or more than one, almost every day. It’s fun, it’s work, it’s therapy. I just have lots of ideas.”
At the moment she is working on a semi-autobiographical children’s musical about “a mountain girl who makes good.” It is set in Tennessee and will be filled with stories about her parents, and feed on the gospel music she has loved since childhood.
Parton admits that she was lucky from the start.
“I never had to work in an office like those women in ‘9 to 5’,” said Parton, “I just had my music dreams from the start, I made a little demo, and I headed to Nashville right after high school. But the whole sexism thing — well, I think it has a lot to do with personality. I never took offense at certain things. I understood early on that I was a girl, and I liked it. And I had six brothers, so I knew how men acted — they are naturally horny, while women want to be selective, though they get pissed off if men don’t find them attractive. I just learned how to deal with men in a smart and clever way. I never slept with anyone I didn’t want to to sleep with, and if a man paid me attention I took it as a compliment. After all, I put myself out there with all the hair and the makeup. But while I look like a woman, I think like a man.”