Working Girls

Dolly Parton wrote a musical and it’s coming to Coeur d’Alene

Charissa Bertels plays one of the frustrated ladies in 9 to 5: The Musical. - STEPHEN SCHLANGE
Stephen Schlange
Charissa Bertels plays one of the frustrated ladies in 9 to 5: The Musical.

The three actresses are passing around a fake joint. As each inhales deeply from the rolled-up paper, they start to cough and giggle and say their designated lines. The scene is so realistic the whole room can’t help but catch a theatrical contact high.

Rehearsals for 9 to 5: The Musical run, strangely, from 10 am to 6 pm every day but Sunday. As the Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre only has two weeks to put the entire production together, time is of the essence.

This day is three days in. Rehearsal is in a side orchestra room, as the ongoing Romance, Romance’s set is currently taking over the North Idaho College theater stage. You can truly feel the camaraderie in the room as actors sideline the temporary stage waiting to be called to their next scene.

“That’s summer stock for you,” says the show’s musical director Joseph Bates. “You go into a tiny world and the rest of the world ceases. We’re a quick family and then get divorced quickly.”

Based on the hit 1980 comedy (currently streaming on Netflix if you’d like a brush-up), starring Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, 9 to 5: The Musical was reinvented for the stage in 2009 with Parton writing the songs.

Playing the three leading ladies are Vanessa Miller as Violet (Tomlin), Darcy Wright as Doralee (Parton) and Charissa Bertels as Judy (Fonda). While the professional actresses had never met before this week, their chemistry onstage sings.

“I’ve never been in a scene where it’s a girl gathering,” says Miller during a quick break. “Exploring these female relationships is an interesting dynamic because we’ve all had these kinds of life experiences with our girlfriends.”

“Theater people are so open,” Bertels continues. “That’s why it’s so easy for us to connect.”

While Miller makes her home as an actor and teacher in Seattle, Bertels and Wright come to CDA Summer Theatre from New York. They all agree playing characters made famous by others is always a daunting task.

“My performance will have hints of Dolly Parton,” says Wright, originally from Coeur d’Alene. “But it would be insane to try to be her.”

But as Parton’s fingerprints are all over the musical, from the big-bosomed character of Doralee to the country-tinged songs that make up the show, it’s hard not to make comparisons.

“I was alive in 1980, unlike many of the cast members,” Miller says with a laugh. “So I definitely remember when the film came out. But there are differences between the musical version and the movie — there’s more layers in this.”

The basic premise, set in the late ’70s, revolves around three women who are treated horrendously by their boss, a “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” (this phrase is a running joke throughout). They hatch a plan to make him pay for what he’s done and take control of the company on their terms.

“I’m definitely drawing experiences from my mom,” Bertels says. “She worked in an office very similar to this for a long time and she’s finally retiring.”

Both Wright and Miller can relate to having an unfair boss.

“This show is all about how women find their survival mode,” Miller says. “Dolly Parton is someone who really knows who she is and that’s what really shines through in this show.”

9 to 5: The Musical • Aug. 15-18, 7:30 pm; Aug. 18, 2 pm; through Aug. 25 • $25-$40 • Coeur d’Alene Summer Theater • North Idaho College • 1000 Garden Ave., Coeur d’Alene • • (208) 769-7780

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About The Author

Laura Johnson

Laura moved to the great Inland Pacific Northwest this summer. She is the Inlander's new music editor.