When the movie ‘9 to 5,’ starring Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton, came out in 1980, it put the empowerment of women front and center. One would hope that more than 35 years later, many of those issues would be long behind us, but sometimes change is slower than we’d like. The new musical version of “9 to 5,” which opened on Broadway in 2009, is more relevant than you might expect.
A real-life wife-husband team plays two of the starring roles in the Good Company Players production. Emily Pessano is Judy, the Fonda character, while Teddy Maldonado plays the boss, Franklin Hart, Jr. We caught up with both for an email interview.
Q: Many people are familiar with the movie ’9 to 5.’ For those who aren’t, give a brief rundown on the plot of the musical.
Pessano: “9 to 5: The Musical” is set in corporate America, 1979. The story follows three women trying to deal with their “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” of a boss, as well as the hardships of their own day to day lives. Violet, Doralee, and Judy deal with discrimination, sexism, and inequality throughout the daily grind and bond over their general loathing of Franklin Hart, Jr. In the midst of seeking revenge on their boss, they realize a collective drive to improve the quality of life in the workplace – for themselves, their coworkers, and women everywhere. The audience gets a glimpse of a different world in our not-so-distant past, especially for women, set to a jubilant score and lyrics by Dolly Parton with all the hilarity of the movie we know and love. I mean, in what other musical can you see a main character killed off three different times in three different ways?
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Q: Does the musical use songs from the movie?
Maldonado: Yes, the song “9 to 5” is what starts off our show and is also at the beginning of the movie. The rest of the musical numbers are written by Dolly Parton – a couple of which she sang on her own albums – and are original to the musical.
Q: Emily, tell us about your character.
Pessano: Judy is a former housewife who begins working at Consolidated after her husband leaves her for his secretary. She has no real work experience (and not a lot real life experience either) but decides to get a job and try to make it on her own. Judy’s first appearance on stage is the first moment of her brand new life, making her a fun character to play with a lot of possibility for discovery.
Q: Teddy: You play a pretty big jerk, correct?
He’s a scoundrel – a chauvinistic pig who takes what he wants because he can get away with it. He’s in lust with Doralee (Dolly Parton’s character in the movie) and she is his unicorn. Playing the role is particularly difficult because of how cruel and misogynistic his intentions are. I often come offstage saying to myself, “Wow, I’m such a jerk.”
Q: Emily, when it comes to women’s issues, we’re living in much different times than when the movie came out. Or are we?
Pessano: Oh! How I would love to say that this is all ancient history and it’s fun to watch because it is so foreign to us! Sadly, though, it isn’t. While I do think that many of the issues we deal with in the show are no longer so widespread, I think there are still people out there that are living in the equality stone ages. It’s sort of like a “Mad Men” situation: You watch in amazement at how crazy it was that that way of life was the norm, but the more you watch the more you realize, “Ugh, I totally know that guy” or “She is just like someone I work with.” It is better now because it’s not as acceptable anymore, but there is still discrimination out there coming from every direction and focusing on all groups of people – not just women.
Q: Teddy, you “get” to die three times a night in the show.
Maldonado: Each of the three main characters fantasize about killing me, in their own way, as part of a pot-induced dream sequence. I have never died on stage before so this will be a first, and since it’s a musical my demise is dramatized and accentuated by the fact that we are in a fantasy. This three part death sequence is my favorite part of the show. It’s where I get to play a little more and not be so serious and bossy.
Q: Teddy, has being in this show made you look at gender roles and stereotypes in your own relationship any differently? In other words, are you cooking dinner more often now?
Maldonado: I think this show is a harsh reminder of how different times were, and not just in the 70s and 80s. For a long time men and women were expected to play their respective gender roles. Men got away with murder, especially in a business setting where it tended to be “the boy’s club” and where women were more respected for their bodies than their minds. In our real lives, Emily and I make a great team and I think it has been important in our relationship to treat her as that, my teammate in life. I also love to cook, so it all works out!
Q: Emily, how about you?
Pessano: Hmm … Now that you mention it, Teddy did suggest that he dictate his answers to these questions for me to type. He may be getting too into character! In all seriousness, Teddy and I try our best to work as a team – and as equals – in our marriage as well as in performing together. I think no matter what, though, in any partnership, one person may do more work on certain things than the other, and vice versa. It’s just how it goes if stuff is to get done. I do enjoy cooking dinner, but I’m certainly not expected to do it. I don’t know how many wives could say that in 1979, but I’m glad I can say it now, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
9 to 5
- Jan. 14-March 13
- Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, 1226 N. Wishon Ave.
- www.gcplayers.com, 559-266-9494