This story is part of a series of articles spotlighting Thespian troupes and the shows that earned them 2020 International Thespian Festival main stage recognition.

TROUPE 5869 from Denver School of the Arts in Colorado returns to the International Thespian Festival main stage with 9 to 5. The troupe’s most recent previous appearances include The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (2018), Spring Awakening (2016), Three Sisters (2014), Urinetown (2010), and Brighton Beach Memoirs (2007).

STORY

Violet is a hardworking single mom at Office Bullpen. She is qualified to run the company, but her misogynistic boss, Franklin Hart, never promotes women. Violet’s colleague Doralee, a married woman and receiver of Hart’s many advances, cannot seem to shake the false rumor that she is involved in a relationship with him. As a result, she remains isolated from her co-workers. Judy is Bullpen’s newest employee, a divorcée whose husband left her for a younger woman. With little work experience, she struggles to acclimate to her new secretarial role.

When Hart fires their co-worker Maria for attempting to uncover salary inequities among men and women in the office, the three women meet in Violet’s living room to fantasize about getting revenge. The next day, Violet’s fantasy comes closest to reality when she accidentally pours rat poison instead of sweetener into Hart’s coffee. When Violet realizes her mistake, she rushes to Judy and Doralee for help. Roz, another Bullpen employee, eavesdrops on their conversation and shares the news with Hart in hopes of gaining his affection.

Hart tries to blackmail Doralee, forcing the ladies to concoct a plan that takes care of Hart but keeps them out of jail. Ultimately, the women band together to earn the promotion, acceptance, and independence for which they yearn.

BACKGROUND

The stage musical 9 to 5 is based on the film of the same name, with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, who will make a special Virtual ITF appearance to celebrate the show. The musical adaptation features a book by Patricia Resnick, based on the screenplay by Resnick and Colin Higgins. The movie, which marked Parton’s film debut, was the second highest-grossing of 1980, and the stage version also enjoyed a happy fate.

The musical premiered in Los Angeles in September 2008 and opened on Broadway a year later, earning four Tony nominations (including best score and choreography), three Outer Critics Circle Award nominations, 15 Drama Desk nominations (with Allison Janney winning as outstanding actress in a musical), and one Grammy nomination for best musical theatre album.

TROUPE 5869’S PRODUCTION

Though its original story is now 40 years old, director Shawn Hann thinks 9 to 5 remains one of today’s more culturally relevant musicals. “9 to 5 is all about women’s rights in the workplace,” she said. “This is shown throughout the production as the main characters take action and give themselves more opportunities … although kidnapping the boss might not have been the best way to do it.”

Although the humorous production is guaranteed to make audiences laugh, Hann’s admiration for this herstory-musical is what led the director to select the nearly all-female production for her troupe at Denver School of the Arts. “Herstory is when history is rewritten and told from a woman’s point of view, as 9 to 5 is,” Hann said.

Hann notes that co-creator Dolly Parton often writes about women’s stories. “A lot of her songs have small nods to women’s rights, and an especially big one is ‘19th Amendment,’ which you may know is the amendment that ended the suffrage movement and gave women the right to vote,” Hann said. “She starts the song with a monologue going into the suffrage movement, then she begins singing about the fight for women’s rights. Not only is her activism displayed in this song, but it is shown throughout 9 to 5.”

Though women first entered the job market during World War I, they faced discrimination based on pregnancy, age, and marital status. “It wasn’t until Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that they started to gain rights because employers could no longer discriminate based on race, sex, or religion,” Hann said.

Employers still did not hire women who were more qualified than men, and even if women did get the job, they were likely paid less than their male counterparts. “In this show, you see aspects of sexual harassment [at work],” Hann explained. “Eight of 10 women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, and often it goes unreported out of fear of getting fired, not being believed, or getting lower earnings.”

Watching the film energized Thespian senior Abby Stuckrath, who portrays Judy Bernly in one of the show’s two casts. “I was vaguely familiar with the story,” Stuckrath said. “I was, of course, familiar with the Dolly Parton song. When I first told my family I was playing Judy Bernly, they kept saying ‘Oh, Jane Fonda!,’ and my first response was, ‘Who?’ So, I did a little research, watched the movie, and came to rehearsal with an improved understanding of the story and its impact.”

After watching the film, Stuckrath fully understood that her troupe was not just producing another silly comedy. “Even though it is a comedy, the show is rooted in a realistic place for many women in the workforce, not just in the ’70s but also today. The movie and the musical do a wonderful job presenting an important topic in an entertaining way,” she said.

Thespian Bella Stevens, the senior playing Doralee Rhodes, agrees. “The message behind [the show] was so strong,” she said. “It made me think more about how women are treated. We always kind of touch on women’s rights in school, but not enough. I feel like I finally had a voice when playing a role in this production.”

Both seniors say portraying such dynamic characters was equally empowering and challenging. “The vocal range of my character was extremely high. I was excited yet nervous to perform such vocally demanding songs onstage,” said Stuckrath. “However, throughout the process, I became more comfortable with my range and abilities as a singer and performer.”

Stevens experienced the pressure of following in the footsteps of a popular performer. “I had to be Dolly Parton. This was a major task,” she said. “I had to learn the way she spoke, how she sang, and how she moved in that character. I wanted to make sure the audience would see me and think there were no differences between me and Dolly. I wanted to bring the audience to when they first saw the movie and get the same reaction from them.”

Being included on the Virtual ITF main stage made the challenges worthwhile. “A lot of hard work and passion was put into this production, so the opportunity to be recognized for that on a national level is an honor,” Stuckrath said.

Stevens echoes her castmate’s excitement and believes anyone who can see the musical performed live should. “9 to 5 is an important musical because it is all about women’s empowerment,” she said. “It keeps you laughing in your seat and enjoying the show tunes, but you leave the show thinking about the message. Hopefully, it will help strike up more conversations about equality in the workplace, and in general.”

Want to see more? Explore the fun of the Virtual International Thespian Festival and register today!

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