Entertainment » Theatre

Talking with 9 to 5’s Paul Castree :: on Dolly, musicals & being a redhead

by Joseph Erbentraut
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Jan 20, 2011

Thirty years have passed since three "office gals" -- Doralee Rhodes, Violet Newstead and Judy Bernly -- conspired against their misogynistic boss in protest of the limited career opportunities presented to them as they faced the '9 to 5'grind, but that gay-favorite film's legacy has continued to live on as it is introduced to new generations of theatergoers today.

Most recently, a musical version of the film featuring music and lyrics written by Dolly Parton, who starred in the 1980 film with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, played on Broadway, receiving four Tony nominations and spurring a national tour starring 'American Idol' alum Diana DeGarmo in the role Parton originated. The show's success proves that - contrary to other recent productions - some musical versions of films can remain fresh in enticing their audiences with top-notch songs and a wit-filled script.

The tour arrives in Chicago this week, with this past Wednesday's performance coinciding with Parton's 65th birthday. During a break between shows, cast member and Illinois native Paul Castree - who's been part of the production since its first reading in 2006 - spoke with EDGE about watching the campy classic grow and evolve since it first opened and also touched on the surprising challenges of being a redheaded actor on Broadway.

Working with Dolly

EDGE: How is the tour going? I understand you all encountered some pretty treacherous weather en route to your latest tour stop in Indianapolis. How was the bus ride?

Paul Castree: We were supposed to fly from Charlotte to Indianapolis but all of our flights were canceled, rebooked on different flights and then those were all canceled, so we all loaded up on the bus and headed out in the middle of a snowstorm through the Smoky Mountains. It was a little bit treacherous and like it was out of a bad scary movie, but that’s Dolly County and I believe she was looking after us, so we got through without any problems.

EDGE: You’ve been a part of the 9 to 5 musical for some time now, dating all the way back to its first reading in 2006. What has it been like to watch the show evolve since then?

PC: Well, it takes a couple of years to get a big musical like this together and this first reading was just a group of actors sitting around reading the book, written by Pat Resnick, who also co-wrote the film version and is friends with Dolly. Dolly was also there with the songs she’d written. I also did the Broadway production, which received four Tony nominations, including for best score, which was really exciting since this was Dolly’s first foray into writing a theater piece.

This production is brand new except, of course, the score and book, but the producers felt the need to revamp and streamline it a bit for the road with a different set, new director and choreographer. The audience has been eating it up.

EDGE: What’s it been like working with Dolly?

PC: I’m not sure how other famous songwriters work with Broadway shows, but she’s been very hands-on and involved with the creative process, really with us in the trenches with her legal pad in hand in rehearsals. If she felt she could write a better song, she’d scratch a song and go back home and come back with an even better one. She did that a couple of times.

Meeting Dolly was a thrill for me. I think everyone hopes she’s really friendly, funny and personable - like that charming personality we’ve seen in interviews and films - and that really is her. She’s not faking it -- the only thing that’s fake about her are her wigs and nails. She has a really incredible work ethic, is very smart and wants to do her best always. It’s been very inspirational to be around her.

Casting redheads

EDGE: What do you think audiences are responding to about the show?

PC: The show is so much fun. I’m old enough to remember the movie, but I think we’ve been introducing this story to a lot of people who weren’t around or didn’t know about the movie. I wouldn’t call the show old-fashioned, but it’s a great musical comedy and has a whip-smart book and is current in a way that’s fun for families to be able to come to the theater and just laugh and have a good time.

EDGE: The movie definitely resonated with gay audiences and has a bit of a cult following, so it’s pretty natural for this musical version to have that, too.

PC: I think it definitely does. When you go back to when it originally came out - in 1980 - it was all about the triumph of the underdogs, in that case, the three women who were not being allowed to get ahead and fully realize their potential because, back then, straight white men basically ran the world. And, of course, you had Lily Tomlin, Dolly and Jane Fonda, all of whom have their own gay followings. I think our three leading ladies [on the tour] - Dee Hoty, Mamie Parris and Diana DeGarmo - also have their own followings.

It’s translated beautifully from the film to this production and I know [the gay fans] come and we see them backstage waiting for autographs and we hear them laughing. The book is very funny, witty and sharp with a underdog, gay sensibility. You don’t have to be gay to enjoy that, obviously, but you do pick up on that if you are.

EDGE: Tell me about how you originally got into theater.

PC: My story’s pretty common, I think. When I got into high school in Rockford, Ill., I joined the musical theater and program, which did two big musicals a year. I had always loved music -- I was always in choir -- but that’s where I felt like I fit in and made my friends. That was where the creative people that were different went and were celebrated for their uniqueness. They didn’t need to conform and they were rewarded for that. I was hooked to it as kind of a personal haven of acceptance and a creative outlet for me initially. Later on, of course, when I was in college and realized people did this for a living, I started auditioning to get a job performing.

EDGE: What was it like to live that fantasy, of sorts: The Midwestern guy moving to New York and performing on Broadway? At what point did it click over where you thought of it as your career?

PC: I had taken a community theater trip to New York in 1979, when I was a freshman in high school, and we saw a bunch of Broadway shows, including the original production of Sweeney Todd, which was so amazing. So New York left such an impression on me and seemed like such a faraway dream -- an unreality or impossibility.

The reality that happened for me was sort of miraculous. I was living in Rockford and was done with college, without a job, and my friend in New York called me and told me there was an open call for the national tour of Bye Bye Birdie, starring Tommy Tune and Ann Reinking. I decided I would do it and flew there, and the day later, I was auditioning at 8 in the morning. I was called back that night to the stage of the Gershwin Theater, where I’d seen Sweeney Todd, and they told me then and there that I had the job and I got my Equity card and went on tour for a year playing Harvey Johnson. After that, I moved to New York and those same producers produced a Grease revival in 1994. I was in the right place at the right time and here I am today!

EDGE: What are some of your dream roles or shows you’d like to do one day?

PC: I’ve always been a big Jerry Herman fan, and I don’t think he was getting his due for a while, even though he’s getting some credit now -- that could also have to do with seeing Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly! in Chicago when I was in high school. It is one of my favorites. I don’t know if that will ever happen, but I do hear rumblings of a Broadway revival happening some day, maybe with a new Dolly, so that would be a lot of fun, but I have had so many of my dreams come true working with some of my idols like Dolly (Parton, not Levi) and, in Young Frankenstein, working with Mel Brooks every day.

EDGE: What are your plans for after this tour’s completion in July?

PC: I think I will probably take a little break but then I’ll go back to New York and dive right back in because I’ve been really lucky in that the shows I’ve done on Broadway, I’ve always been in the original cast. I don’t know if that’s because of the red hair, which makes it difficult for me to replace someone in another show, but I do want to get back to auditioning again and hopefully have that experience again of working with a team on a new show. It’s such a privilege to be a part of that creative process of a brand new show like ’9 to 5.’

EDGE: Why do you think it’s such a stretch for some directors to cast redheads? You should form some sort of advocacy group.

PC: I always call it the NRA - or National Redhead Association - just to confuse people. There’s always a few of us on the first day or at auditions. I think it’s helped me in some cases, definitely with that first job with Bye Bye Birdie, as the breakdown asked for a guy with a Midwestern look, and there I was looking like Opie Taylor. There are some times where I just did not look right for a role, but I think that happens however you look - if you’re too tall, too short, too thin, too fat. I wouldn’t change it, because I think redheads are generally thought of us as the comics, and that’s my favorite thing to do.

EDGE: Any big plans for getting around in Chicago during time off from the show?

PC: I love Chicago and I spent so much time in my childhood going into the city a couple of times a year. My family was big on museums, but I was a science nerd anyway, so I didn’t mind. I’ll hit the Field Museum, the Shedd and the Art Institute and am definitely going to get some Chicago pizza. I’m kind of torn because I’m proud of New York pizza, but Chicago’s is still my favorite. I’m also looking forward to being around that Midwestern friendliness, which always feels good.

The national tour of ’9 to 5’ plays through January 30, 2011 at Chicago’s Bank of America Theatre. The tour continues through July 31 with shows throughout the country. Visit the musical’s website for tickets and more information.

Joseph covers news, arts and entertainment and lives in Chicago. He is the assistant Chicago editor for The Huffington Post. Log on to www.joe-erbentraut.com to read more of his work.


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