Lees-McRae Theatre Arts department addresses serious topics through song, dance, and comedy in “9 to 5: The Musical”

When three talented and strong women, Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, and Lily Tomlin, came together in 1980 to make the blockbuster comedy “9 to 5,” they brought conversations about women’s rights and sexism in the workplace into the public conscience. Now, more than 40 years later, that conversation is being brought to Lees-McRae with the Theatre Arts Department’s production of “9 to 5: The Musical.”

The show will run from April 6−9 in Hayes Auditorium. Based on the film and featuring original music by Parton, “9 to 5: The Musical” is lively, fast-paced, and full of fun while still managing to discuss serious issues.

“The show was set in the late 70s, and this was toward the tail end of the women’s movement. Women were starting to assert themselves in so many aspects of society where they had previously been told no, and ‘9 to 5’ was the ultimate women’s empowerment movie,” Director Michael Hannah said. “This story has a lot to do with what’s going on in the world today. Women are still pushing to get positions in the business world. It has improved a lot since 1979, but there’s still so much farther that we need to go, and this show is voicing that desire to continue to push against that glass ceiling.”

For senior Musical Theatre major JoBeth Hilton, the feminist message of the show is made even more special by the legacy of women who came before her. Hilton plays Doralee Rhodes, the character originally portrayed by Dolly Parton on screen and Megan Hilty on stage—two women who Hilton said she has always admired.

“I looked up a lot to Dolly Parton, even before this—I mean I think most women have,” Hilton said. “I feel like she does a lot for women, but she really gives back as a whole. She has her Imagination Library where she gives books to kids; she uses her money, fame, and power for what I feel to be the greater good; and she still does what she loves which is to make music. She’s still a good old-fashioned songwriter from Tennessee, and I don’t think she ever lost that sense of self.”

According to Hannah, this widespread admiration for Parton contributed to the decision to run “9 to 5: The Musical” at Lees-McRae.

“She’s representative of the Appalachian world. She has always pulled herself up, she has made her own way, and she has done it without hurting other people,” Hannah said. “There’s just something about the way she approaches the world. She’s very positive and has a very positive influence on people. Anything associated with her is probably going to have a positive impression on people.”

Parton’s spirit of hard work and adamantly pursuing your goals is one that has been necessary to pull this show together. The musical requires a large ensemble cast, but the efforts of Theatre Arts students and faculty go beyond what you see on the stage.

“The ones who are not on stage are backstage, in the lighting booth, in the sound booth, they’re helping in the costume shop. A show of this size requires all kinds of backstage work and prep work,” Hannah said. “It really shows off the talent that we have in the student body. I feel very proud of them when you see the final result.”

The show will be performed at 7:30 p.m. April 6−8, and at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 9 in Hayes Auditorium. This show is open to the public, and students, faculty, staff, and members of the community are encouraged to attend and enjoy a night full of fun, music, and lots of laughs. Tickets to “9 to 5: The Musical” can be purchased here.

By Maya JarrellMarch 17, 2022