With a thriving art and theater scene, St. Louis is a welcome summer home for a number of established actors. At a time when there’s a seasonal pause on Broadway, our city offers a plethora of opportunities for artists seeking to make their name in a new production. From the Shakespeare Festival St. Louis and the Muny in Forest Park to a number of small opera companies and STAGES St. Louis in Kirkwood, there’s an abundance of juicy roles creating a buzz about our theater scene that extends beyond the region.
This buzz is part of the reason Corinne Melançon, who plays Violet Newstead, Laura E. Taylor, who plays Judy Bernly, and Summerisa Bell Stevens, who plays Doralee Rhodes, are so excited to be leading STAGES’ regional premiere of “9 to 5: the Musical.” The second offering in the theater company’s season, the show features breakout roles for its leading actresses and songs by Dolly Parton. The musical comedy, based on the 1980 movie of the same title, hilariously explores working life, unexpected friendship and revenge and is a perfect choice for anyone who’s struggled with authority and the need to feel seen.
“This is my eighth season with STAGES, and I’m delighted to be back,” Melançon observes. “I always look forward to working here. The staff is so well prepared, the theater is so well run and the organization really makes sure that we feel valued while we’re here.” Taylor and Stevens nod in agreement as Melançon speaks, with Taylor adding, “From the moment you’re cast, you are part of the family. The community and donors even make us a first rehearsal dinner. It’s such a welcoming feeling, and you simply don’t get that everywhere.”
Another plus is the show selection and the roles. “STAGES chooses really interesting shows with characters I want to explore,” Melançon continues. “With ‘9 to 5,’ you’ve got three women from very different backgrounds who are each working to find their place in the business world. They bond over a bad boss and unpleasant working environment. I think that’s something that most people have experienced and can relate to.”With a short rehearsal period, there’s not much time to feel awkward, resulting in a sense of freedom that allows actors to delve into the role and the interplay. As Stevens reminds us, “the other two women don’t like my character very much at first, but as they get to know her, they come to appreciate that she’s a lot smarter than they realized. As a society, we’re often encouraged to judge people by their appearances.”
Each character changes significantly, an important element of the storytelling that enables the musical to be much more than a chick flick. “This show reminds us, with a lot of humor, that everyone has something they’re struggling with,” Taylor says. “Underneath the songs, costumes and makeup, this is a story about identity and self-empowerment, something nearly everyone can relate to.” Melançon jumps in, “the three women come from vastly different backgrounds and have different aspirations, but there’s commonality. Violet is accomplished, successful and hitting the glass ceiling. Doralee has been dismissed and overlooked because of her appearance. Judy finds herself thrust into the job market after years of being a housewife.”
“They all feel marginalized and just want to be accepted,” notes Stevens, “and, really, isn’t that something most of us want?” A heartwarming aspect of the show is the idea that friendship may be found anywhere, and working at STAGES reinforces the theme. Melançon and Taylor worked with the company in previous seasons, and they were both in last year’s delightful production of “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Though new to the company, Stevens was thrilled to join STAGES because she’d heard so many good things about the experience.
“We don’t just go from the theater to the hotel and back,” Taylor explains. “Last year, we went on a float trip, and there’s always a trip to City Museum, which is fantastic. Plus, there’s Cardinals baseball [and] the [Missouri] Botanical Garden; we always find something fun to do on our day off.” Melançon also mentions St. Louis’s many restaurants. “I’ve learned my way around a bit, and I love barbecue. So naturally, we’ve been to Sugarfire Smoke House and Pappy’s [Smokehouse].” Even newcomer Stevens has found local attractions she’d like to visit again: “I particularly like walking in Laumeier Sculpture Park,” which is conveniently close to the Robert G. Reim Theater, where “9 to 5” is playing.
Though humorous and upbeat, the show, with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, touches on emotions and insecurities many of us have felt in our working lives. There’s a real sense of empowerment and possibility in the show, which is brought to life by its three leading ladies.
For more information on “9 to 5: the Musical,” running July 21-Aug. 20, visit stagesstlouis.org. M