Talking 9 to 5 with Marina Prior and Samantha Leigh Dodemaide

Based on the 1980 film of the same name, 9 to 5 tells the story of 3 women fighting against their sexist, egocentric boss.

With music and lyrics by Dolly herself, and a book by Patricia Reznick (one half of the original screenplay writing duo), the show is a hilarious and thrilling feminist revenge fantasy, with a score that’ll leave you toe-tapping for days.

Marina Prior and Samantha Dodemaide

In two of the lead roles are Marina Prior and Samantha Dodemaide, playing Violet and Judy respectively.

A woman who truly needs no introduction, Marina has played some of the most iconic roles in Music Theatre canon. From Christine Daae in the Original Australian production of The Phantom of the Opera to Dolly Gallagher-Levi in Hello Dolly!, her reputation truly precedes her. Various other credits include Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance (VSO), Jellylorum in Cats (Original Australian cast), Cosette in Les Miserables (Original Australian cast), Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, Rona Lisa Peretti in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and Mrs Meers in Thoroughly Modern Millie.

Winner of the 2013 Rob Guest Endowment, Samantha was most recently seen as one of the Murderesses (and u/s Roxie) in the Australian tour of Chicago (John Frost/Suzanne Jones). Other credits include Elphaba in Wicked (HOTA/Matt Ward Productions), Evita (u/s Evita, GFO/OA), Dorothy in the Australian tour of The Wizard of Oz (GFO/Suzanne Jones), Singin’ in the Rain (Kathy u/s, Michael Cassel/Dainty Grou), and Violet in Violet (Blue Saint Productions).

Do you see any of yourself in your characters?

Marina: I guess so, yeah. She’s a mum, she’s middle aged, and all the things that come with that. She’s at a point where she knows who she is and what she wants. I don’t find it a huge departing from myself in some ways. She’s very much downtrodden, overworked, underpaid, and I don’t have that hugely. But we’ve all experienced it at different times, the vulnerability.

Sam: I always think that every role I’ve played, or do play, is an extension of me or my personality. When I’m auditioning for a role, or you know, connect with a role, it’s because they’re somewhat like myself. I think Judy is probably one of the ones most like me. I think I’ve got a bit more of a backbone than Judy, but so many of her traits are very similar to me. She’s a lot more naive than a lot of characters I’ve played, she’s more shy and not as grounded. But what I love about her is that she has an amazing transformation in the piece so in the end, she grows her backbone, is determined, strong, all those things I mentioned before.

Samantha Dodemaide, Erin Clare, Marina Prior, and Caroline O’Connor | Photo by Peter Brew-Bevan

You’ve both performed in a range of shows that vary in style – from classical to modern. Why do you think versatility is important in performers?

Marina: You know, I’ve been doing this for 36 years now. I started out as the ingénue, the romantic lead. A lot of that was the way I looked, as well as having a very high soprano voice, so those roles tended to be the heroine or romantic roles, like Marina in West Side Story or Christine in Phantom [Of The Opera]. But probably, gosh… 18 or 19 years ago, I made a conscious change to take on comic roles and character roles. So more recently, I’ve done a lot of MTC plays, my last one was Hay Fever by Noel Coward, and it was a comedy. In Guys and Dolls I played Miss Adelaide, the comic character. Annie Get Your Gun, Kiss Me Kate… It’s funny, often people say to me “wow, this is a real departure for you!” and they’ve been saying that for 20 years! And it’s not! But I understand that the imprint in their mind when they think of me is Christine or the girl singing at Carols By Candlelight. There are elements of me that I bring out for those sorts of songs or occasions, but for almost 20 years now I’ve only really done character or comedy roles. And with that, this huge array of vocal styles – Hello Dolly! is very different to singing Christine in Phantom [laughs].

Sam: I guess here in Australia, we have such a variety of shows that come, so we have to be as versatile as possible. And that can be a positive or negative, that we get a little lost in knowing where our niche is, and what we’re really strong or great at. But on the other side of things it’s great because the more versatile you can be, the more you can work. So yeah, this show is a bit of challenge for that. I have more of a legit/MT background which does suit this role. There are 3 kind of musical ‘flavours’ in the show – myself, the more ‘legit’ music theatre; Violet, who Marina plays, who is more the Hollywood star; and Erin who plays Doralee, who is more the Dolly Parton-esque country/western role. We are playing to our strengths, but we do cross over a fair bit in the show. We will be stealing tips and tricks from each other.

Have you seen the show?

Sam: I haven’t! Marina just came back from seeing it on the West End, and Caroline has also seen it. I read the script many, many times, maybe about 10 times already. I’m always so amazed that reading it, I know a funny part is coming up, and I still find myself laughing at it. I haven’t seen the film either. I was really debating whether I wanted to. I said to Jeff [Calhoun] the director “should I go and watch the film?” because I didn’t want to be persuaded by Jane Fonda’s performance of it. But he was like “oh yes, go ahead.” I think this version of Judy is a little bit different, although the musical does pay great tribute to the film, it’s by the same writer [Patricia Reznick]. I think because we’re in 2020 and not 40 years ago, I think the characters are instinctively very different.

Marina: I loved it. It was really funny, it’s a real feel-good evening in the theatre. It could not be more topical, it’s quite extraordinary really. I think the time is just right for it. It was supposed to play for something like 3 months on the West End, and when I saw it, it was coming up to its first year as well as having a national tour. I think it’s really resonated with people. It’s really funny, because a lot of it is the script from the movie, and there are lines in the play (that is obviously set in the 80s) where they’re like “oh, look, give it 5 years and there’ll be no wage gap!” and the laughter in the audience is really bittersweet. Talking about gender equality and all that sort of stuff, misogyny and bullying in the workplace. A lot of those things are universal human struggles too, between the sexes. It’s about power really. I think it’s interesting that, unfortunately, a lot of those things are always going to be relevant or, at least, need to be addressed. It’s not lecturing you, it’s done in such a hilarious way.

9 to 5 boasts a leading cast of all strong female roles – has this been exciting for you to be a part of?

Marina: God yes! And hey, I’m a middle-aged women. And there aren’t many middle-aged protagonists being portrayed on stage in musicals. I love the cross-generational bonding that happens within this show, and the fact that the 3 women all lift each other up. I love all the empowerment stuff, yet the show is not preachy. It’s done in such an intelligent way, to use the humour and the laughter and the faff to get the story across. Absolutely though, 3 leading ladies who are actually driving the story. It’s a really exciting thing.

Sam: That is so rare. I mean, I just did a version of Wicked on the Gold Coast where I got to play Elphaba, and I thought that was rare, having 2 female leads. But they were still tangled up in a bit of a love story, things like that. I think especially this piece, these 3 women, are really standing on their own two feet. Yes there’s a bit of a love story here and there, but the story is really about fighting the odds and discrimination, and most of all about friendship. About these 3 women building each other up. Mostly when we watch films and things there’s conflict between the women, so it’s so exciting. I get along so well with Erin and Marina, we’re probably going to have to be pulled into line a few times [laughs].

The Original Broadway Cast of 9 to 5 | Photo by Joan Marcus

Do you have a favourite song in the show?

Marina: Look, I have to say I love the theme song [‘9 to 5’]. I remember when it came out, when it was on the radio when I was a kid, and I couldn’t stop singing it then. But I love this number Violet gets, this Hollywood style number where she gets all these men dancing around her, it’s called “One Of The Boys.” She wears like a white powersuit, it’s really glam, it’s really fun. Sort of tongue in cheek. When I was watching it I was thinking how I can’t wait to do that. But I love it all – Dolly Parton’s ability to write in such an eclectic mix of styles is just amazing.

Sam: Yes, I have a couple of favourite songs. I really love a song at the beginning of the show that’s called “I Just Might,” and it’s the 3 women singing about potentially rising above what they’re fighting, rising above their issues. I think it’s such a great anthem, for me anyway. The 3 women are kind of battling the same thing but they don’t know it at this point in the story anyway. And of course, I get to sing this amazing song at the end of the show called “Get Out and Stay Out.” It’s amazingly written and especially the way Dolly writes her music, they all have a through-line and storyline, they all progress the story. It’s about this woman who is finally realising that she doesn’t need anything else, she doesn’t need a man, she doesn’t need the external things she thought she did. I’ve always been connected to this song because it’s so fantastically written. It has such a good arc, such growth. It’s not just a ‘big song.’ Yes, it’s got some big notes in it but it comes from a place of storytelling, which I think is really important because there’s no use in singing a really high and big note if it doesn’t mean anything.

Why do you think people should come and see 9 to 5?

Marina: Like I said before, it’s got 3 female protagonists, which is really exciting. Two, it’s hilariously funny. And three, we need to be entertained and laugh, and be transported. Laugh at ourselves and our foolishness, male or female. And it’s got my dear friend Caroline O’Connor in it! And Erin [Clare] and Sam… I love being able to support and encourage those girls coming up, and oh my god they’re talented. It’s a good time. And when we’re all together, it’s just been hilarious. It’s gonna be a party!

Sam: I think it’s incredibly relevant in 2020. We have things like the #metoo movement… it’s kind of interesting that it was written 40 years ago because it was quite beyond its time for then. It’s so fun, yes there are all these underlying political themes of the show, but at the end of the day it’s a really fun comedy. Audiences will be completely on board and ready for a good night the moment the theme song [“9 to 5”] starts.


9 to 5 The Musical 

Sydney, Sydney Lyric Theatre, The Star
From April 19

Melbourne, Her Majesty’s Theatre
From July 25

Tickets and more information are available at 9to5themusical.com.au

Gabi Bergman

Gabi Bergman is a Melbourne-based performer. She holds a Double Arts degree in Theatre Studies and Film/Screen Studies, and is currently completing her Masters of Teaching (Secondary Education). Gabi has always been an avid lover of theatre, specifically musicals, and spends way too much money than she’d like to admit on tickets. Her most prized possession is her crate of theatre programs.

Gabi Bergman

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