“9 to 5 the Musical” Politics, Business,& Culture, of the Workplace on the Musical Stage

The tour of the Broadway show “9 to 5: The Musical” rolled into the Community Center Theater Wednesday evening as the latest offering of Broadway Sacramento. “9 to 5 the Musical” is a positive example of the trend of turning popular movies and television into Broadway shows. Opening night’s audience responded enthusiastically to the rollicking upbeat musical with a positive story.

“9 to 5” began as a theatrical movie in 1980. The film was most famous for casting popular country singer Dolly Parton, veteran actress Jane Fonda and veteran comedian/actress Lily Tomlin. The movie was directed by Colin Higgins of “Harold and Maude” fame. Higgins and Patricia Resnick wrote the screenplay from the original story by Resnick.

Between 1982 and 1987, the lives of the central characters continued with different casting through a television sitcom.

Parton’s great acting ability was the big surprise of the original movie. She also wrote the title song for the movie. For the musical version, Parton wrote the music and lyrics.

The original movie reflected on the relatively recent phenomenon of women being more empowered in the workplace and the beginning of more women moving up the corporate ladder.

Now nearly three decades later, “9 to 5: The Musical” has to create the historical context for its source material. This is done in an interesting way. Parton herself is back, projected on a large round scrim that drops from above the stage. She welcomes the audience and sets the play in context.

The title song gets the show moving, and the pace hardly slows down for the whole show. While Parton is well known for her country songwriting ability, it is amazing how good she is at writing in the musical theater genre. Many of the songs are hardcore Parton, while others are strongly in the style of musical theater with some country influence.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, three women working in a traditional office setting finally have it with the obnoxious, sexist, evil boss. They kidnap him and take over the office.

Dee Hoty plays Violet Newstead, the secretary who keeps being passed over by much lesser qualified men. Diana DeGarmo plays Doralee Rhodes, the secretary who fends off the unwelcome advances from the boss while dealing with the cold reception from her coworkers. Judy Bernly, the new secretary, newly divorced and badly needing the job, is played by Mamie Parris.

All give solid singing, dancing and acting performances. The standout is DeGarmo. She handles the role of Doralee and the essence of Parton without being a clone or impersonation. It is nice to hear her performances of the songs.

Joseph Mahowald also deftly handles the role of evil boss Franklin Hart Jr. Kristine Zbornik is a hoot as Roz Keith, the office snitch and suck-up to Hart. Gregg Goodbrod, as Newstead’s would-be boyfriend Joe, shares a nice duet with Hoty.

One of the greatest things with this tour of “9 to 5” is the use of a live orchestra, led by Martyn Axe. Along with having wonderful live music, nine local musicians are being employed by the production.

Jeff Calhoun’s direction and choreography move the show along at a lively pace. This is especially true of the very choreographed set changes. Flashy set and lighting changes are another example of contemporary Broadway musical productions. It is interesting that Calhoun directed “Bonny and Clyde,” coming to Broadway this fall. Talk about digging deep into movies to transfer to Broadway.

Everyone involved in design — Kenneth Foy (scenic design), William Ivey Long (costume design), Ken Billington (lighting design), Steve Canyon Kennedy (sound design) and Benjamin Pearcy (projection design) — have long and impressive credits on Broadway, with Broadway touring shows and other productions. Several of the designers have worked together on other productions.

Fresh off its multi-award-nominated Broadway run (four Tony awards, 15 Drama Desk awards), “9 to 5” brings the latest Broadway staging to tell of a time that many still remember. Yet many entering the workplace today take for granted how much equality exists now. For an entertaining musical look back at the workplace, go see “9 to 5 the Musical.”

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