The pendulum swings. A musical film of 1980 made it big with songs by Dolly Parton. It was 9 to 5, and the title song became one of her greatest hits. It’s one of the main reasons we all love Dolly even to this day, a true American icon.
In 2008 the film was reimagined as a musical, and it saw a Broadway premiere in 2009. The play has kept the candle burning all these decades later, with a UK tour just finishing in March of last year, and many regional productions in the U.S. The latest of these is currently on stage at the Gaslight Baker Theater in Lockhart, and I attended the opening night of this delightful production on July 15.
The play makes it easy to root for girl power, but in society at large we have seen the pendulum swing. America in 2023 is not America in 1980. Just looking at university bachelor degrees, for every 100 women who achieve it, only 75 men do. It was easy to lampoon the boss in the 9 to 5 film and play, since he is such a misogynistic moron with no redeeming features. But, as Washington Post columnist Christine Emba said on CNN today (July 15, 2023), it has had dire consequences.
“One of the places where the Progressive movement has lost footing here is by constantly saying that masculinity is toxic. By constantly talking down to men and suggesting that men are trash, which is not aspirational, it makes them feel resentful and eventually draws them to seek role models who sympathize with them. Fewer than 50% of Gen Z men say that feminism has been a good thing for America. This is going to become a political problem.”
All this needs to kept in mind as you watch the ridiculous antics on stage. The notably farcical scenes, which are numerous, don’t really work, but the audience is so caught up in the play they don’t care. The ‘serious’ aspect of the play is about wage and equity back in the 80s, but it’s not too much focused on wages.
The smarmy factor is played off-the-charts by the boss, portrayed by Doug DeGirolamo, who is on the board of directors of the Gaslight-Baker Theatre. Great piece of acting, from the over-sexed boss to the guy who eventually gets a taste of bondage.
The three leads are all exquisitely drawn portrayals of women in the workforce. Tysha Calhoun is the most successful of the three, having risen to a position of some (but not much) authority in the company. Ella McCarthy (playing the Dolly Parton character Doralee) is the blonde who gets way too much attention from the boss. And Rebecca Smootz is Judy, the new employee.
The Dolly character needed a bit more country twang in her voice, but she was able to evoke sympathy from the audience at just the right moments and handled that pistol just right! Kudos to costume designer (Andrea Littlefield) for her transformative work with this character. In this large cast, I must also mention Savannah Cervantez, whose toilet paper scene was a stand-out.
Just a couple of minor notes. The director, Beth James, needed a curtain call, although it was nice to see her introduce the play. Start time should be 730pm; it didn’t really get started till 815. For some of us who have to drive to visit Lockhart, that meant getting home 1130pm, which is way too late. Additional acknowledgements in the program is nice, but spelling it acknolwedgements is not.
From the raging gag that strutted across the stage in the 2-minute opener (I can’t say what it is) that really got the audience’s attention and brought them at once into the comedy about to unfold, to the final scene where we get a satisfying glimpse into the future of some characters 35 years into their future, this play is a winner. Go see it.
The Gaslight Baker is one of my favourites in greater Austin, and don’t pass up the popcorn sold in the lobby.
Tickets at: www.gaslightbakertheater.org