Decked out in sky-high stilettos and a sequined blazer complemented by form-fitting black leather capris, Dolly Parton took center stage Friday afternoon (Sept. 17) at Nashville’s Tennessee Performing Arts Center — but not to perform. Instead, she was saving this task for the dozens of Broadway actresses and actors fervently practicing their lines and dance steps on an elaborately decorated set.
Waving her hands in fishnet, fingerless black gloves, she welcomed the small group of invited attendees to a sneak preview of the world premiere of her national tour of the Tony-nominated musical, 9 to 5: The Musical. The tour begins Tuesday (Sept. 21) in Nashville and will travel the entire nation through June 2011 with an all-new cast as well as additional musical and set changes.
“What in the world could be better than to be able to kick off our show right here in Nashville?” Parton asked.
Premiering last year on Broadway at New York’s Marquis Theater, 9 to 5: The Musical garnered a Grammy nomination and four Tony nominations, including a nod for best original score (music and/or lyrics) for Parton. What’s more, it marked her first time as a musical composer.
The Broadway show is an adaptation of the 1980 box office smash, 9 to 5, that featured Parton in her first-ever movie role as Doralee Rhodes alongside Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. The story’s plot depicts three working women (and friends) hysterically fighting back against their boss, Mr. Hart, for equal treatment in the workplace.
For the national tour, Parton’s character will be played by season three American Idol runner-up Diana DeGarmo and Tony-nominated actresses Dee Hoty (Violet Newstead) and Mamie Parris (Judy Bernly).
As the three lead actresses joined the rest of the crew onstage, musical director and choreographer Jeff Calhoun made a few touching remarks as a photo was lowered from the ceiling. The picture depicted Parton and a young Calhoun from the set of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, the 1981 film that featured him as a chorus boy alongside Parton in her lead role as madam Miss Mona Stangley.
“It’s been a thrilling journey,” he said of working on the new musical. “So for me, directing her show after coming from being a chorus boy in 1981, I can’t tell you — I just got goose bumps right now saying it — it’s been an emotional journey for me.”
Parton, chiming in with a witty retort added, “I think I made a better madam than a secretary in 9 to 5.”
After the opening remarks, the elaborate set of desks, phones and a plethora of filing papers quickly came to life. The characters seamlessly broke out into song, appropriately titled “Change It,” in a scene where the women begin to notice the positive influence they’ve had on the workplace.
Following this, the characters closed with their final number, “9 to 5,” featuring a large video projection screen of Parton singing along with the characters onstage.
“This is a reinvented, reconceived show,” Calhoun noted. “So although it played Broadway, we’ve revamped the show for the road and completely reimagined it.”
After the brief, action-packed glimpse of the performance, Parton and the three lead actresses joined reporters backstage to share their thoughts on the entire production. Eager to shine the spotlight on the performers, Parton couldn’t help but share her excitement and anticipation of the show.
“It’s a big thrill,” she said. “It hits me differently than it would anybody else, I think, and certainly I can’t take any credit for all the hard work that Jeff [Calhoun] and all of them have been doing. I’ve just been coming in and out and getting to stay here as long as I can, but I want to be as much a part of it as I possibly can.
“It’s just incredible, and sometimes I have to honestly say, it almost overwhelms me. I just think my wig’s gonna fly off or somethin’. I’m serious. It’s just like everything comes out of me!”
DeGarmo, still adorned in her stage clothing consisting of a hot pink blazer, teased blonde wig, tight jeans and green pumps, beamed from ear to ear as she spoke of playing the role originally made famous by the legendary country star.
“It’s a big bra to fill,” she teased, adding, “It’s some big shoes and some big hair and big nails. I like it, though. It’s fun. It’s exciting to have Miss Dolly’s love and support — makes the experience twice as fun.”
Parton eagerly stepped back up to say, “Anybody can buy a cheap wig and wear it. And a push-up bra,” she added. “But you’ve got to have a lot of talent — and she does.” Looking straight at DeGarmo, she told her, “I’m proud of you.”
Parton admitted she hasn’t offered any advice to the 23-year-old actress, but she says she didn’t need to.
“Diana’s got her own following,” she remarked. “She’s a little star of her own.”
Just before the actresses were whisked away for more rehearsals, Parton shared what remains on the horizon for her. Though she says she’s always working — writing a musical adaptation of her life and, most recently, cast in a new film, Joyful Noise, alongside singer-actress Queen Latifah — she says she’s never one to stop dreaming or aspiring to reach new goals.
“I dream new dreams every day,” she said. “And I just wait for the Lord to lead me. I pray that prayer every day — just show me what I need to do and help me do it and just keep me on the right path.”View photos from the preview.