Workplace sexism and harassment of women turns comedic in “9 to 5 The Musical,” presented by the Foothill College Music Theatre, March 1 through 18. The musical is based on the 1980 film “9 to 5″—a liberating and funny fantasy take on how three female office workers team up to get revenge against their sexist male boss.
The film and musical feature the music of multi-Grammy winner Dolly Parton, one of the film’s big three female stars. The Foothill College production has its own local stars, including two with ties to Santa Clara.
Rachelle Abbey, who lives in Sunnyvale and works in a research lab in Santa Clara, is one of the leads, playing office newcomer Judy Bernly.
“It’s a great part with a lot of funny moments. Her story line is relatable to a lot of people. Her husband leaves her for his secretary, and she has to navigate her new life and learn to stand up for herself,” said Abbey.
“I love the theater because you’re telling a story all the time. It’s a reflection of real life or an escape,” continued Abbey. “Musical theater is my passion. I like to do all the aspects of it—singing, acting and dancing are all wrapped in one.”
Abbey didn’t want to pursue theater as a career because she wanted it to “stay fun” and didn’t want her livelihood to depend on it. “So I needed a nine to five job that would give me my evenings free,” she said.
Santa Clara resident Megan Brown, a 2011 Wilcox High School graduate, got her start in theater at Peterson Middle School in the Starting Arts program. In “9 to 5 the Musical,” she is in the ensemble and doubles as other characters, such as a jazzercise instructor, nurse, secretary and cowgirl.
“It’s fun to be able to switch from doing one character to doing a whole bunch of characters,” said Brown. “You come on in every scene as a different person. It keeps you on your toes.”
Brown has her own nine to five job working in research at Stanford University’s School of Medicine.
When she started working full time she said she was naive, assuming that sexism was all in Hollywood.
“As I continue to work, I notice there are definitely huge, stereotypical things that you see,” Brown said. “The older male doctors don’t have the same respect for younger female doctors. It’s not obvious at first, but you pick up on these things.”
“My mom is in a corporate setting,” she continued. “The stereotypes there are not in your face or direct, but you pick up on it there, too. She’s the only female in a corporate meeting, and the men are discussing who’s the hottest celebrity to sleep with,” said Brown.
Brown says the cast talks about how relevant the musical is.
“It seems so ridiculous, but it’s actually pretty accurate,” Brown said. “Everywhere you go people face issues of not having respect because they’re too young or female or whatever.”
In “9 to 5 The Musical,” hope is in the wings.
By the end song “Get Out and Stay Out,” the whole show has evolved. “There’s a lot of women empowerment going on throughout the show—at the core knowing that you can go through life and be okay,” said Abbey.
“It shows the three secretaries bonding together, and I definitely see a parallel between that and where I work,” said Brown.
“What happens in ‘9 to 5’ doesn’t seem so far off, but it’s definitely getting better,” she added. “With time, if somebody sees ‘9 to 5,’ they’re going to think there’s no way there’s any truth to it.”
“9 to 5 The Musical” plays Thursdays through Sundays at the Lohman Theatre on the Foothill College campus, 12345 El Monte Rd., Los Altos Hills. For information and tickets, visit www.foothill.edu/theatre or phone (650) 949-7360.
“The musical is a comedy, but parts make you stop and think. It’s eye opening and you can relate to it,” said Brown. “It shows how important it is to empower people, not just women but everyone.”