In April 2020, 9 TO 5 THE MUSICAL will have its Australian premiere at the Sydney Lyric Theatre. Based on the hit film starring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, the show arrives in Australia having already played to audiences in the UK, on Broadway and across North America, as well as in Brazil and Germany.
In the film, Parton played Doralee Rhodes. In the musical’s Australian premiere production, it’s actor, singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Erin Clare who is bringing that character to life. Last seen on stage in Sydney this year as Courtney in the critically acclaimed production of American Psycho The Musical at Hayes Theatre Co, Clare starred as Scaramouche in The Gordon Frost Organisation’s 2016 national tour of We Will Rock You. Her stage credits also include Heathers The Musical, High Fidelity and American Idiot.
Joining Clare in the show are Caroline O’Connor, Marina Prior and Samantha Dodemaide.
“To be included in the line-up of such strong, intelligent, funny and talented women is an honour, and I truly mean it,” Clare tells Theatre People.
Before auditioning for 9 TO 5, Clare knew little about the popular 1980 film.
“I knew that it was this iconic film starring Dolly Parton … I knew that it was a story of three women in an office, but I didn’t really understand the complexities of it until I read the script,” she says.
9 TO 5 is the story of Doralee, Violet and Judy, three workmates who hatch a plan to seek revenge on their arrogant and chauvinistic boss, Franklin Hart Jr. Clare talks about the role of Doralee, his secretary.
“She’s a character who’s long been underestimated and undervalued, I think, because of how she looks and her gender,” she says. “Doralee is a feisty country girl, like Dolly, and the most amazing thing about this character, I think, is she will beat anyone to the punchline before they make a joke. It’s so reminiscent of Dolly. She’s no one’s fool and it’s her integrity that actually wins her the acceptance of people in this office. She is so much more than what she looks like and she is really in control of her own destiny.”
Clare admits that it’s daunting to play a character made famous by the most celebrated female country performer of all time.
“It’s challenging for an actor to make a character their own when everyone has such a clear idea of her in this film or her as a person,” she says. “It’s up to me to really delve into it and present my own version of the character, while still staying true to the essence of Dolly, which is so feisty and happy-go-lucky. She’s sexy as well, I think that there’s no other way to play that.”
Clare also shares that 9 TO 5 will be her first time singing country pop.
“I’ve sung a lot of pop, a lot of musical theatre, a lot of jazz, a lot of classical,” she says. “[With] country … I think you can really hear when someone’s trying to fake it … so I listen to a lot of Dolly’s back catalogue to really try to get that sound and the vocal sobs and, almost, the yodelling that sometimes happens between vowels. I’ve really had to delve into that.”
At the same time, Clare has been throwing herself into all things Dolly Parton. This has included listening to the nine-episode podcast Dolly Parton’s America, hosted by American radio host and producer Jad Abumrad.
“It’s incredible all the things that she’s done,” she says. “Really delving into her as a songwriter, as a philanthropist, it’s almost unbelievable that this one person can have so many attributes and talents and so much intelligence and integrity. I just keep peeling these layers of Dolly … She’s across so many things. It’s amazing to look at her as an actress – you look at Steel Magnolias – and then you also look at her as a songwriter and her charity work.”
9 TO 5 features a book by the film’s original screenwriter, Patricia Resnick, and the score is by Parton. The music was recognised by nominations for Drama Desk, Grammy and Tony Awards.
Talking about the music, Clare says Act Two’s ‘Change it’ is the number she’s particularly excited to see come to life.
“It’s about if something is not going your way, if you find yourself in a situation that you don’t like [or] you’re not comfortable with, you can change it,” she says. “It’s so uplifting, it’s really high-belt country pop and it’s this huge anthem that happens later in the show and it’s one of my favourite songs. It’s such an amazing song to sing.”
Amidst the comedy, 9 TO 5 is about working together to take a stand against what’s wrong – a message that’s immensely relevant to contemporary audiences.
“I think that when the film came out in the eighties, it was about three women who band together to take down their boss … it was almost like a farce,” Clare says. “It’s 2019, we’re in the middle of the Me Too Movement. When that film came out, it was an idea, and I feel like we are living in an age where that is happening, where people are banding together. And it’s not just women against misogyny, it’s more like people against bullying. We’re living in that time where it’s at the forefront of discussion, and to have it represented in a show where there are three female protagonists … I think it’s such a strong message for 2019/2020.”
Photo credit: Peter-Brew-Bevan
9 TO 5 THE MUSICAL – SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre, The Star
Season: From 21 April 2020
Performance Times: Wed-Thu 7pm, Fri-Sat 7.30pm, Wed 1pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 1pm & 6pm
Prices: From $59.90 (Transaction fees apply)
Bookings: 9to5themusical.com.au or 136 100
Groups 12+ call 1300 889 278