By Eric Henderson

This weekend, Horrible Bosses opens in movie theaters across the country. The comedy’s plot is simple: Three buds, three bad bosses, one plot to murder them all.

Though Bosses is clearly hitched up to the bro-camotive train currently being powered by the success of The Hangover, its clearest cinematic precedent may be one of pop culture’s cushiest moments of mass feminism, the Jane Fonda-Lily Tomlin-Dolly Parton romp 9 to 5.

A blockbuster hit back in 1980, 9 To 5 tackled sexism in the corporate world, and gave its three female stars carte blanche to thoroughly stomp all over one nasty hunk of male ego. Audiences ate it up.

It was also the vehicle for one of Dolly Parton’s biggest pop hits to date, so naturally, she felt compelled to resuscitate the ditty as the crown jewel of a Broadway musical adaptation. And now, 9 to 5: The Musical reaches the Twin Cities, playing at the Ordway from Tuesday through next Sunday.

I talked with one of the touring company’s stars, South Dakota-native Joseph Mahowald (who has family who now live in St. Cloud), about playing this light musical comedy’s heavy. Here are some highlights from our chat.


Q: How do you enjoy playing — let me check my notes — a “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot”?

A: (Laughs) Oh, it’s great. You get to exorcise your demons. You get to leave it all on the stage and be a nice guy in the real world.

Q: No typecasting then, I hope.

A: I hope not. You’d have to ask my wife about that.

Q: I bet it’s a chance, though, to eat up scenery in the best sense.

A: They kick my butt eight times a week. Physically, it’s a really difficult show. I get slapped, thrown to the floor, shot at, hung by a garage door opener. So they do lots of stuff to me … tie me up.

Q: And then, after that, you’re expected to sing!

A: Exactly!

Q: What are some of the differences from the movie?

A: The big difference is that the movie wasn’t a musical. It was, of course, Dolly’s breakout hit. The title song was, I think, her first crossover hit to the pop charts. But all of the music in the show was written by Dolly. They’re all original songs (with the exception of the title tune).

Q: So it’s not a “jukebox musical.”

A: No, these are not trunk songs at all. They were written specifically for this show. And she’s brilliant, I mean, golly! The song that I get to sing … I have to say, of all the songs in the show, I think my song is the best. (Laughs) It’s called “Here For You.” And boy, you just feel for these women that go through this kind of bad behavior by men, who have to endure this kind of sexist attitude. Because, to come up with this song. You have to realize it was written by a woman …

Q: The same woman who wrote “Jolene.”

A: Right, but it’s written with the voice of a man, from the man’s perspective. And so she has to have experienced this to have written about it. And our version was directed by a different director, and he made some very different choices than the Broadway show. For instance, in the Broadway show, “Here For You” was actually written to be sung to Doralee. In our version, there’s sort of an “out of time” moment where he’s in his head. He’s saying these words, but she’s not hearing them.

Q: The material is at this point, I think it’s safe to say, from a different era. Have you adapted it as something of a period piece?

A: You mean is it relevant?

Q: Specifically has the film’s brand of feminism been modified?

A: No, I mean, I think given that it’s not that it was that long ago. I guess in essence it’s only 32 years now (since the film was made), so as a period piece it’s not so obvious. With the exception of the polyester shirts and hairstyles, there’s not a whole lot that tells you it’s 1979. There are couple moments in the show, like Violet and Doralee are sitting in the second act having a conversation, and she says something about “24/7.” And Doralee looks over and says, “What’s that mean?” “I dunno. I just made it up.”

Q: (Laughs) That’s what Dolly Parton said she would call the sequel, too, if they ever make a sequel.

A: “24/7”? Did she really?

Q: Yeah, I think in the commentary track. So you’re saying that society hasn’t changed so much, then. You say “70 cents on the dollar” and everyone still knows what you’re talking about.

A: Exactly.

Q: Lastly, tell me a little bit about your fellow castmates. Specifically the three of them who tie you up.

A: Well, Violet is played by Dee Hoty, a three-time Tony nominee. She is excellent. The talent is just overflowing. Doralee is played by Diana DeGarmo, who the runner up on the third season of “American Idol.” And Judy Bernly is played by Mamie Parris … who will be a star, mark my words. She’s actually going out on the “Wicked” tour right after this. She’s got a week off and then starts rehearsals for that. The whole company is very compatible, and there hasn’t been any backstage drama. It’s been a very enjoyable experience.


Mahowald mentioned that he and other “9 To 5” cast and crew members will also be involved in a benefit for the Imagination Library following the show’s run on Monday, July 18 at the DAC of College of Saint Benedict. There will be auction items from Dolly Parton there. You can learn more about Parton’s literacy project here.


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