With her theatrical flair and big songs, it's a wonder the Backwoods Barbie hasn't promenaded down the Great White Way. For Dolly Parton, the wait's almost over.
Dolly Parton is at her most delightful when she's laughing at her own jokes. Perched on a leather chair in the den of producer Bob Greenblatt's gorgeous Craftsman home in the Hollywood Hills on a mild September day, the 62-year-old country music queen punctuated an interview about her work in 9 to 5: The Musical, premiering this weekend at the Ahmanson Theatre, with zingers she's admittedly used a hundred times before. She'd let forth a line -- People always ask me if I'm offended by all the dumb blond jokes. I say no, because I know I'm not dumb, and I know I'm not blond!" -- and follow it immediately with a knowing peal of a giggle. The laughter was neither self-deprecating nor vain; it was her way of celebrating the joy of shtick.
Knowing a good punch line is just one talent that makes Parton inherently theatrical. There's her look: the massive hair, superhuman hourglass figure and blindingly bespangled costumes, adding up to a cheerfully overdone femininity that's made her one of the world's most recognizable pop stars. There's the act she's been perfecting for upward of 40 years, a much-loved mix of corn pone and sugar. And finally, there's her songbook, full of rich narratives like Coat of Many Colors" and giant ballads like I Will Always Love You."
In light of all this, it's almost shocking that Parton's only now coming to Broadway, decades after conquering both Hollywood and the crossover pop charts. The highly anticipated musical, staged by Tony Award-winning director Joe Mantello, is scheduled to open on Broadway on April 23, 2009, at the Marriott Marquis Theatre.
Parton had been contemplating her own jump across the footlights when Greenblatt came to her with the idea of basing a musical on 9 to 5," the 1980 screwball comedy in which she'd made her acting debut. I was writing my life story as a musical," she said. Then Bob Greenblatt came to me, and he said, 'We're thinking about making '9 to 5' into a musical, would you be interested in doing the music?' And I thought, 'I've never done anything like that. I'd like to try.'
Try she did. In Nashville, Parton met with Greenblatt and Patricia Resnick, the writer behind both versions of 9 to 5," and went through Resnick's script. Then Parton set off to compose. She spent a couple of weeks working just off the top of my head," and produced enough songs to record a demo that became the basis for the score.