Singer's participation adds credibility

After Robert Greenblatt got the idea to turn the 1980 film “9 to 5″ into a musical, one thing loomed heavily over him: The Dolly factor.

Through a series of what he calls “weird connections,” he was able to assemble a significant creative team — albeit without the composer of the original theme song. Patricia Resnick, who wrote the screenplay and owned half the rights, was an acquaintance from their days at Lorimar. For the other half of the rights package, Greenblatt’s path into 20th Century Fox went through Peter Chernin, who had given him his first job in television. Joe Mantello, a friend from high school, was willing to direct.

All the approvals had one condition: the participation of Dolly Parton.

“I had to track down Dolly to see if there was any interest,” says Greenblatt, whose day job is prexy of entertainment at Showtime Networks. “The conduit was Melissa Etheridge. She knew I wanted to do it, and she was doing (TV show) ‘Crossroads’ with Dolly in Nashville.”

Greenblatt flew to Nashville and met with Parton. Resnick, Parton and Fox had all received proposals to turn “9 to 5″ into a tuner over the last 10 to 15 years, but it was his plan that got Dolly to OK the project.

“She’s so lovely and so humble,” Greenblatt says, not only referring to the initial creative session but also to the process that followed. “She says, ‘I’m not sure I’ll get you the whole way there, but I’d love to give it a try. If something doesn’t work exactly, I’ll rewrite it.’ ”

“9 to 5,” featuring 19 new Parton songs plus the title tune, begins previews at Center Theater Group’s Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles on Sept. 6 with an official opening Sept. 20, followed by a five-week run. Broadway performances begin March 24 at the Marquis.

Allison Janney, Stephanie J. Block, Megan Hilty and Marc Kudisch star in the L.A. production. “That’s four Broadway stars, well-known quantities in a certain community,” says CTG artistic director Michael Ritchie. “With those stars, the title, Dolly’s songs and a great creative team, it comes down to kismet.”

Producers are hanging their marketing hats on Parton’s participation and the strength of the title. Parton has upped awareness by using one of the “9 to 5″ numbers as the title of her most recent album, “Backwoods Barbie.” She plugged the show nightly on a spring and summer concert tour, playing “Backwoods Barbie” and “9 to 5″ at every concert. Parton also made L.A. publicity appearances for the show in the spring.

“People who have done so many shows and seen movies turned into musicals are asking what’s that extra ingredient,” offers Greenblatt. “Here it’s Dolly Parton. Dolly elevates it.”

The tuner has been capitalized at $15 million through two investment groups, one for the L.A. run and another for Gotham. One of the key investors, Greenblatt notes, is the Independent Producers Network, figuring the show is a no-brainer once it tours.

Offers are coming in from the U.K., Australia, Canada and Scandinavia; five record companies have called to discuss the cast album. But Greenblatt is not getting ahead of himself, taking it one step at a time.

This represents a first for Greenblatt, who has spent his professional career in TV since coming to Los Angeles after majoring in theater at the U. of Illinois. Since then, he has not worked in legit beyond Mario Cantone’s “Laugh Whore” on Broadway, which Showtime produced for the purpose of filming the show. His only other experience is as an investor in “The Drowsy Chaperone,” which also was staged at L.A.’s Ahmanson during Ritchie’s tenure, prior to Broadway.

With no new series this fall, Greenblatt felt the timing was right for “9 to 5.” Still, he considers it important to mount the show in Southern California first, mainly because the creative team is L.A.-based. (Parton apparently owns more than one home in the city).

“If ‘Drowsy Chaperone’ and ‘Curtains’ had been failures, we would not be in a position to do this,” says Ritchie, also referring to the David Hyde Pierce starrer that originated at CTG. “Those shows gave us a tangible base.”

Greenblatt, whose TV production credits include “Six Feet Under,” recited a list of West Coast venues that had mounted Broadway tryouts, noting some failures and not wanting to be part of a cluttered lineup at other theaters. At the Ahmanson, “9 to 5″ is the bright star that opens the season.

Oddly enough, this will be the first movie-to-musical transfer to come directly out of Hollywood, also repping a first for Ritchie and CTG. And, of course, there’s still that Parton factor.

“The music is signature Dolly Parton — pop-infused country — but she understands the Broadway idiom so organically,” Ritchie notes. “I have no idea how she made that leap, but I was blown away by the music.”

Even if the show does not sit well with critics or audiences, Greenblatt has faith in Parton being savvy, in business and in song.

“She understands the fundamentals in owning copyrights,” Greenblatt says. “In success, that’s where the upside comes. She’s thinking down the road.”

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