Happy belated International Women’s Day! (It was yesterday.) March is also Women’s History Month, and 2019 has been declared the Year of Wyoming Women.
During this women-focused week, it felt only right to snag my grandmother and mom and head to opening night of “9 to 5: The Musical,” this year’s much-anticipated coproduction by the WYO Theater and Civic Theatre Guild.
Based on the iconic 1980 movie, “9 to 5: The Musical” reveals three women who finally stand up to their no-good boss and take over the office, expressing their empowerment in songs written by the one and only Dolly Parton and in dance choreographed by Sheridan’s own Aunie Johnson.
Along with the rest of the audience at the packed WYO on Thursday night, Grammy, Mom and I laughed, whooped and whistled at the action onstage.
The three leading actresses, Amanda Patterson (also the music director), Pollyanna Averett and Dawn Sopron, beautifully captured the essences of Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, each amping up her unique angle. Dan Cole played bossman Frank Hart to lecherous, pompous perfection. Kali Smith’s Roz — the office busybody — won over the crowd with her sweet yet spunky burlesque-style solo.
Each character seemed to steal the show, down to the cameo by Jack Vernon, who brought down the house just by walking onstage.
And that’s only what we experienced from our seats.
“What you see on the stage as an audience member is everything happening at the same time,” WYO Theater Executive Director Erin Butler told me. “But there are so many elements — focusing the lights so they’re in the right places with the right color … tons of costumes with quick changes … and of course, the set, which needs to be designed, then moved on and off the stage quickly by crew members.”
The program’s long list of cast and crew was impressive — even more so when you realize these hard-working individuals have jobs and families, making the hours they volunteered all the more inspiring.
It’s a labor of love; it’s community theater at its best. It’s also ridiculously relevant.
“To be completely honest, I hadn’t thought about the social implications of the show,” Erin said. “But having seen it, it’s bizarre how appropriate it is now.”
“It feels more timely than ever,” agreed Emma Hall, the show’s director. “Even though the movie came out almost 40 years ago, there is more attention on these issues recently, especially with the #MeToo movement.”
Indeed, stirred into the cheerful song-and-dance numbers, “9 to 5: The Musical” addresses sexual harassment in the workplace in the late ‘70s — striking after the decades of revelations from #MeToo.
It addresses women-on-women hostility — are you too feminist? are you feminist enough? — demonstrating that actually women are stronger together instead of tearing each other down.
It addresses the need for onsite daycare, nodding to the “motherhood penalty;” the gender wage gap; and the freedom for employees to discuss salaries without consequence — the subjects of two failed bills in the 2019 session of the Wyoming Legislature.
Sure, the script has moments that recall a different brand of feminism, when women aimed to be “one of the boys,” but you can see beyond to the point: Women deserve equal rights.
And yet — it’s so fun! What could have been heavy-handed messaging comes across as light-hearted.
This is not a happy accident. While she wanted audience members to enjoy themselves, the director strived to ensure the issues didn’t “get lost in the comedy of the show,” Emma said.
“I think it’s important that, though the show is a comedy, and there is a lot of exaggeration, the core problem that ‘9 to 5’ is addressing is not exaggerated,” she continued. “It exists: It still is something that’s happening.”
“It’s jubilant,” Emma said. “And not just for people already inclined to be supportive of the #MeToo movement…
“I hope that the female members of the audience walk away being proud to be women, that everyone walks away with a feeling of empowerment.”
Opening night’s standing ovation showed her success. I happened to be in the row behind Emma as the audience roared its approval. She was next to her mom, Jeannie Hall, the woman behind the costumes of nearly 50 shows in Sheridan, including “9 to 5: The Musical.”
“It was fun to work together on a show that reflects our politics and opinions and celebrates strong women because my mom is the strongest of women,” Emma said. “And for her to be there supporting me was really special.”
There is a reason why strong women are celebrated in this show, this month and this year. Strong women are our way of moving forward, so that in another 40 years, “9 to 5” is no longer painfully relevant.
In the meantime, for a dose of playful empowerment, head to “9 to 5: The Musical,” showing at the WYO Theater tonight at 7:30 p.m. and tomorrow at 2 p.m.