What career path might a well-crafted college paper inspire? During screenwriter Patricia Resnick’s last year as a USC film student, well before she co-wrote the film 9 to 5, she penned an academic paper about film director Robert Altman. He read it and gave her an internship when she graduated.
One day while Resnick was working in production on the set of “The Late Show” starring Lily Tomlin, Tomlin called out to the crew, seeking creative input for her routine. Resnick’s snappy improv suggestions found immediate approval with the leading lady of comedy, and soon she found herself writing for Cher and Dolly Parton on Broadway and television, as well. The rest, as they say, is history….
9 to 5, the 2009 hit musical based on the 1980 movie, sashays through Dallas’ Music Hall in its first national tour May 18-29, under the auspices of the Dallas Summer Musicals. I caught up to a very busy, but gracious, Patricia Resnick by telephone.
What was the genesis of 9 to 5?
Jane Fonda was concerned about the plight of clerical workers and wanted to make a political statement about how badly they were treated. She announced in Variety Magazine that she wanted to do a movie, a comedy, about three secretaries, to be played by Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton and herself…. As far as I was concerned, I was perfect for the job. I met with Jane and offered her a simple idea. Three secretaries with a boss so terrible they want to kill him. We started from there and a year later with Colin Higgins aboard as director and co-screenwriter and our dream cast of Jane, Lily, Dolly and Dabney Coleman in place, 9 to 5 began filming in 1979.
How did a stage version, a musical, come about three decades later? Is it dated? I don’t think any of us could foresee how beloved the film would still be almost thirty years later. It was the second highest grossing US film of 1980; several generations keep discovering it and loving it. In conversations with producer Bob Greenblatt, I voiced natural concern about how dated the material might have become. Although some things have changed, others haven’t. There still aren’t many top women executives at Fortune 500 companies and very few female members of Congress. The pay disparity between men and women continues. Then there’s the abuse of authority issue. It’s something that anyone who has to answer to authority, especially when jobs are tight, can identify with. So many things have changed in the world since the movie first came out: the personal computer, the Internet, cell phones, fax machines and more. But the glass ceiling still exists. Office work is even more dehumanizing now than it was then. People spend their days in claustrophobic cubicles working hours that make a forty-hour workweek look desirable, toiling for less pay and decreased job security.
Why did Dolly Parton write all the songs for the musical? We decided to go with Dolly because she did such a good job with the song ‘9 to 5’ for the movie. She’s a wonderful songwriter. She’s written almost all of her hits, and she’s great at telling stories and getting into the heads of characters. Her songs go beyond where the movie was — they let you get into emotions that weren’t in the movie.
What’s unique about the stage version and how does it differ from the movie? Theater has a real advantage over film in going deep with a character through song. It’s a full two-act show, and much of the story is told through the songs. There’s also tons of dance. It’s choreographed by the fabulous Jeff Calhoun. (Calhoun made his Broadway debut in the stage adaptation of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” in1982. Tommy Tune hired Calhoun to perform in the first national tour of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”. Calhoun’s collaboration with Tommy Tune resulted in the 1991 Tony Award for Best Choreography for “The Will Rogers Follies.” In 2003 he won L.A. Drama Critics Circle Awards for Direction and Choreography for “Big River” and in 2004 he won a special Tony Award Honor for Excellence in Theatre for “Big River”.)
What do you hope audiences will take away from attending 9 to 5, the musical? I hope they really enjoy laughing at the human condition. It gives me pleasure to know my writing gives people delight and buoys them up to face day-to-day challenges.
What do you think of the success of Tina Fey with “30 Rock” and “SNL”? It’s fabulous. I’m a big fan of her work. She pushes comedy in new directions and opens doors for more women writers.
What advice would you give aspiring women writers today? If you’re good at something else, do it! Only the top 1-2% of writers, men or women, find success. But if that’s your passion, follow it; ignore the statistics. Read, read, read. The classics, both film and literature. Know the history. You can’t be a good writer without reading….
Tickets, info: Dallas Summer Musicals Box Office, 542 Preston Royal Shopping Center, or any Ticketmaster outlet; online www.ticketmaster.com, or call 1-800-982-ARTS.
Article composed via phone conversation with Ms. Resnick, includes excerpts from Jay Harvey’s January 6, 2011 indystar.com interview and a 2009 Q & A by Eric Bornemann.
9 to 5 Tour
Mamie Parris, left, Dee Hoty and Diana DeGarmo, right, are pictured with Dolly Parton, second from right. Parton wrote the original music for the Broadway adaptation of “9 to 5: The Musical.” DeGarmo plays the role Parton played in the movie. Photos by Joan Marcus.
Article as run in May 2011 Arts & Culture DFW Magazine