REVIEW: "9 TO 5, THE MUSICAL" — Musical Theatre West @ Carpenter Performing Arts Center
Updated: Feb 14
Pour Yourself a Cup of Ambition and Get to This Show!
Nearly 4 decades before the "MeToo" movement, Dolly Parton, alongside Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, starred in the comedy film "9 to 5," featuring a sparkling score by Ms. Parton, where 3 women secretaries navigating the misogyny of a megaconglomerate back in the Rolodex era, turn the tables on their male boss, who has sexually harassed and discriminated against them with impunity.
Of all the direct film-to-stage adaptations ever made, “9 to 5” is perhaps the most accomplished and efficient. This inspiring translation of the 1980 20th Century Fox film, which was one of the funniest and most brazen stories of female empowerment ever committed to celluloid, has an unusually daunting pedigree. With a zinger-packed, steel-edged screenplay by Patricia Resnick, and a quartet of major stars (Tomlin, Parton, Fonda, and Dabney Coleman), the film had an imprimatur and dazzling chemistry most producers only dream of. It was only a matter of time before the Broadway show appeared. And so it did, in 2009, yielding four Tony nominations.
Now, that same production, as was presented on Broadway then, is currently playing in a spectacular two-week run by Southern California's Premier Musical Theatre Company — Musical Theatre West. The show opened to packed audiences and rave reviews this past Saturday night, February 11th, and is slated to run through Sunday, February 26th at the fabulous Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach.
In the musical, librettist Resnick deliberately sticks close to the original scenario, recycling the main characters and plot complications in a broadly humorous period piece that translates well, once again making the women elemental forces of vengeance and the villain Hart that same hatefully lovable wolf in a three-piece suit.
To a certain degree, however, she has blunted the edge of the whole social commentary: Ideas and attitudes that may have seemed outrageously unjust then but seem quaintly silly, if not downright cartoonish, in this 21st-century reprise. On the other hand, Resnick keeps many of the movie’s funnier lines and situations in her stage version, while earning easy laughs with “topical” references to Atari, liquid paper, state-of-the-art typewriters, etc.
Much of the credit in the musical’s success goes to Dolly Parton, who made her acting debut in the original feature, wrote its enduringly popular title song — which, of course, is repeated in this reconstitution — and supplemented that tune with enough country-flavored, barbeque-eating music and lyrics for a full-scale musicalization, which also includes some rockabilly raunch, rhythm-and-blues riffs. But wait, there’s more: Ms. Parton also appears on video to provide cheeky and charming narration at the beginning and end, along with a fair degree of old-fashioned star power.
At heart, it’s a satisfying tale of comical comeuppance, as Franklin Hart Jr., a craven corporate boss (Edward Staudenmayer), aptly and repeatedly described as “a sexist, egotistical, lying hypocritical bigot,” is force-fed his just desserts by three fed-up femme employees: Violet (Daebreon Poiema), a veteran office manager who’s tired of butting her head against the glass ceiling; Doralee (Madison Claire Parks), a sexy Southern belle — Parton’s role in the movie — who’s even more tired of warding off her boss’ unwanted advances; and Judy (Ashley Moniz), a newcomer to the secretarial pool, who develops a sense of self-worth only after her churlish husband dumps her for a younger woman.
These three office revolutionaries end up kidnapping their male chauvinist boss, rewrite all sorts of sexist office rules and assumptions, smoke pot, get drunk, discover the joys of sisterly relationships and, in the process, raise office efficiency to a new, all-time high.
Considering the militancy of ''9 to 5,'' it may be fitting that one of the best and funniest performances in the show is given by Mr. Staudenmayer (a lecherous “Here for You”), playing Hart to smarmy mustachioed perfection accompanied by a deep, rich, impeccable baritone. In some seriously gut-busting scenes, Mr. Staudenmayer takes much of the edge off Hart’s slimy sexism and predation with some well-placed humor and innuendo.
Equal parts feminist fantasy fulfillment and sitcom-style farce, the musical often flirts with wink-wink naughtiness in dialogue and sight gags in a manner that recalls dinner theater staples of the 1970s. But nothing is ever allowed to get too far out of hand, and the production overall benefits from the swift and streamlined pacing of Director Cynthia Ferrer, gliding effortlessly through the gratifying deus ex machina ending. The comic sensibility certainly feels vintage, similar to the smirky mode of sitcoms like “Three’s Company.”
As the sassily spunky Doralee, Ms. Parks brings a real sunniness to the character, and deftly suggests Parton’s vocal tics and curvaceous trademarks while leaving her own imprint on the role. In fact, Ms. Parks does a truly standout job while performing (Yeehawwww!!!!) what’s arguably the most entertaining song in the show, the “Cowgirl's Revenge.” Ms. Moniz as the confidence-challenged, newly divorced Judy also hits all the right notes — originally played by Jane Fonda — and shows off some impressive “America’s Got Talent”-style pipes when belting out the potent empowerment ballad “Get Out and Stay Out.”
But it’s Ms. Poiema who emerges as the indisputable first among equals as Violet, playing the droll office upstart with subtle hints of actresses who previously played the part — Lily Tomlin on film, Allison Janney on Broadway — but owning the role in her own right with a delightful mix of dry wit, crisp intelligence and mature sexiness. She shines brightest during a mock-glitzy production number — “One of the Boys” — but also impresses during the nonmusical moments when she delivers withering put-downs with dead-eye accuracy.
In a somewhat contrived happy ending, all the radical changes at the office has caught the attention of Chairman of the Board Tinsworthy (Michael Cavinder), who makes an impromptu visit to the company. But since the women increased company production under the false approval of Hart, they can take no credit for it. Fate, however, seems to be on their side anyway: Tinsworthy “rewards” Hart for his good work by immediately replacing him with Violet as CEO and sending him to work on a special project in Brazil, much to the delight of the rank and file. If I remember right from the movie, he ends up in the Amazon and is never heard from again. I don’t think they went that far here.
As for the music…well, Parton's country-bubbly songs have a way of getting in your head and staying there. Orchestrator Bruce Coughlin, and arrangers Stephen Oremus and Alex Lacamoire have done their jobs well. Violet's getting-down-to-business "Around Here," and Joe and Violet’s "Let Love Grow" are also surprise sleeper hits.
We also see groveling apple-polisher Roz Keith (Chelle Denton), Hart's personal assistant, become a caricature of an oversexed woman in a riveting scene stealing moment, as she unleashes her pent-up emotions of love and lust in one of the best numbers, “Heart to Hart.” And among the self-actualization turns, Doralee's "Backwoods Barbie" (which is clearly based on a Dolly Parton self-parody), Violet’s revenge fantasy quartet of songs, the trio’s Act I finale, "Shine Like the Sun," and Act II's "Change It" are all exceptionally performed.
Of particular note in regard to the crew are Shannon Smith-Regnier’s period-perfect costumes, exaggerated versions of trendy attire from the Polyester Era, while lighting designer Paul Black’s flawless illumination of the stage requires a special nod. I have to mention also some exquisite choreography throughout by Alexis Carra Girbés. This MTW production has a sizable orchestra as well and is masterfully conducted by the vivacious Wilkie Ferguson III, once again bringing to life the fabulous music and lyrics of the incredible Dolly Parton — “To Me, Life is a Song!”
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA’S PREMIER MUSICAL THEATRE COMPANY — MUSICAL THEATRE WEST — PRESENTS 9 TO 5 THE MUSICAL; PAUL GARMAN — EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR/PRODUCER; Music and Lyrics by DOLLY PARTON; Book by PATRICIA RESNICK; Based on the Twentieth Century Fox Picture & Originally Produced on Broadway by ROBERT GREENBLATT; Arrangements and Additional Orchestrations by STEPHEN OREMUS & ALEX LACAMOIRE; Orchestrated by BRUCE COUGHLIN; Directed by CYNTHIA FERRER; Musically Directed by WILKIE FERGUSON III; Choreographed by ALEXIS CARRA GIRBÉS; Technical Director KEVIN CLOWES; Lighting Designer PAUL BLACK; Scenic Designer ROBERT A. KOVACH; Sound Designer JULIE FERRIN; Projection Designer ANDREW NAGY; Costume Designer SHANNON SMITH-REGNIER; Wig Designer JENNA DE JESUS; Stage Manager VERNON WILLET; Asst Stage Manager ERIN NICOLE EGGERS; Production Manager STEVE CALZARETTA; Associate Producer BREN THOR.
WITH: ASHLEY MONIZ • MADISON CLAIRE PARKS • DAEBREON POIEMA • CHELLE DENTON • KEITH A. BEARDEN • JOSH ALVAREZ • LEO AYALA • MICHAEL BULLARD • MICHAEL CAVINDER • ISABELLA DE SOUZA MOORE • ERIN DUBREUIL • BRANDON DUBUISSON • KURT KEMPER • EDGAR LOPEZ • MISSY MARION • MARISSA RUTH MAYER • AMELIA PROCHASKA • ALYSSA M. SIMMONS • NIKKI ELENA SPIES • CHRIS TUCK • AND EDWARD STAUDENMAYER.
“9 TO 5, THE MUSICAL” runs February 10th through February 26th with performances at Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach. Performance Dates: Sun, February 12th at 1PM; Thu, February 16th at 7:30PM; Fri, February 17th at 8PM; Sat, February 18th at 2PM & 8PM; Sun, February 19th at 1PM & 6PM; Fri, February 24th at 8PM; Sat, February 25th at 2PM & 8PM; Sun, February 26th at 1PM. Some mature content and sexual innuendo. Running Time Approximately 2 Hours, 15 Minutes with one intermission. Tickets may be purchased at www.musical.org.
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
Photo Credits: Caught in the Moment Photography