Mamie Parris in 9 to 5:The Musical -- With Dolly Parton's Seal of Approval

Mamie Parris (left, in purple) as Judy - the Jane Fonda role.
Mamie Parris (left, in purple) as Judy - the Jane Fonda role.

Mamie Parris, who's coming to Houston in the role of Judy in 9 to 5: The Musical, didn't make her way to the national tour through the usual route.

The New York City-based actress got a call from her agent saying the casting office wanted to see her for the role on tour. She went to a first audition and got a call back to a second. She really wanted the role, which she saw as a great opportunity both as an actress whose character develops over the course of the show and because it gave her a chance to sing Dolly Parton's songs.

But she said no.

"I couldn't make it because I was on my honeymoon. So I sent in a video to get approval from Dolly. That's how I ended up landing the role," Parris told Art Attack.

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Turns out Parton, one of the stars of the 1980 movie - along with Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda - had casting approval on everyone chosen for the post-Broadway tour, Parris said.

This isn't the first time for Parris in Texas. She was born in Hurst near Fort Worth and in fact, "I was 'Little Miss Hurst-Euless-Bedford' when I was five." When she was 9 the family moved to Kansas City, Missouri where she stayed until she graduated from high school and moved to New York.

"I grew up singing country music and listening to Dolly's music. I actually toured with Kenny Rogers a little over a decade ago on his holiday show," she said. Since then highlights include working as an understudy for the revival of Ragtime on Broadway. Closing weekend she got to go onstage as Mother in that Tony-nominated show.

Parris points out that although Dolly Parton is well-known as a country singer, the songs in the show run the gamut from country to rock to contemporary musical-theater style.

The show has gone through considerable changes since its Broadway run that go beyond just cutting a song and a little bit of tightening, she said. "I think it's a little more elaborate of a revision than most shows see when they go on tour."

So many people were involved in putting the original show together that maybe there were too many cooks, Parris said. The Broadway show ended up being "a little bit long, especially for a touring production," she said, adding "They did have sort of an identity issue trying to figure out what the show really was." She credits their director Jeff Calhoun with making a lot of the changes and really centering the show in the year it's supposed to represent: 1979.

"That era was really about variety shows, family entertainment like the Cher show and Carol Burnett. It embraces that kind of feel," Parris said.

People familiar with the movie will still find the basic storyline albeit with minor accommodations to make it work better for the stage, she said. The three main characters are still women who deserve more in their work life than their egotistical sexist boss is ever considering giving them.

Parris said the national tour was put together a little quickly; they started rehearsals in New York City in mid-August and opened in Nashville in September.

As it turned out, their opening perfomance in Nashville with celebrities and Parton present in the audience - was the first time they ran through the show without stopping.

"We'd attempted a dress run-through the night before, and a set piece got hitched up and we had to stop and untangle things," Parris said laughing. She says the cast all has its sea legs now and the tour is booked with dates through October 2011.

Theatre Under the Stars presents 9 to 5: The Musical November 9 through 21 at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. Tickets are available at TUTS.com or by calling 713-558-8887.


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