Apart from the ridiculously catchy title tune, there may not be much you know about the 1980 comedy “9 to 5.” Starring Jane Fonda, Lilli Tomlin, and Dolly Parton, the movie was a top grosser in 1980 but fell out of the zeitgeist along with the other buddy comedy/girl power films. I was familiar with the film but not the 2009 musical adaptation being performed this weekend at SVSU. While occasionally ridiculous and definitely a little cheesy, fans of upbeat musical theatre won’t regret checking it out!
The show opens with the famous song sung by an ensemble of mid-level employees in the colorful polyester of the late 70’s. We meet three women during the opening number who will be our leads: Judy (Brianne Dolney) is a housewife who is in the process of a divorce from her cheating husband, and looking for a fresh start. She meets Violet (played by Jessica Hurley), a sarcastic, hardworking middle manager who is consistently overlooked for a promotion because of her sex. Doralee (Abby Burgess) is the sexy secretary of the president of the board, Mr. Hart (Joshua Lloyd). Although she is good at her job and a kind and caring person, she finds herself groped by her boss while her fellow employees judge her based on her appearance. The three women eventually bond and fantasize about killing Hart, who is a “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot.” When Violet accidentally mixes up the Sweet N Low with the Rat Poison while making Hart’s coffee, their fantasies become a little too close to reality, with outrageous results.
There are some really nice performances here. A standout for both performance and vocals is Holly Houck, who plays Hart’s devoted assistant Roz. Her physicality and comedic timing were impressive in her solo number “Heart to Hart,” and she absolutely chewed the scenery each time she was onstage. Burgess is another standout with a spot on Dolly Parton impression (if Parton had a little Kristin Chenoweth thrown in); you can’t take your eyes off of her onstage, and she delivered the most balanced performance of the night. Hurley has impressive physical command of the stage, moving like a trained dancer and spitting lines with equal venom and aplomb. Dolney brings a classic screwball style to Judy, hitting her reactions and timing perfectly, very reminiscent of a young Shelley Long. She also had one of my favorite songs of the night, the stirring “Get Out and Stay Out.” Lloyd also had excellent facial reactions and physicality for the cartoonish character of Mr. Hart.
The vocals were a bit wobbly across the board. I’m not sure how much of the issue was simply with sound/microphones by Lucas Inman, but many lines were difficult to hear or understand and several of the songs lacked the energy and pitch needed to really sell them. The songs in the show were delivered mostly “park and bark,” which really placed the focus solely on vocal performances and could have been improved with some more creative blocking from director Ric Roberts. The energy picked up immensely in the second act, especially with the excellent ensemble number “Change It,” the best of the night.
The costumes by Jennifer Lothian were brilliant - the late 70’s is not a time often portrayed on stage, and you could tell that she and her team had a great time picking out flattering and attractive costumes, with multiple changes happening for each character and some specialty costumes. The set by Jerry Dennis was very creative and well used - transferring a film to the stage can be tricky with so many locations and backdrops, and his clever use of multiple panels made for seamless transitions and eye-catching scenes. Lighting by Peggy Mead-Finizio was good, but less successful were the projections. Especially for the fantasy sequences, I was excited to see how they would be used, and unfortunately they seemed more like an afterthought than a feature of the scenes - they became distracting and didn’t sync up well with what was happening onstage. Special shout outs must be made to the spotlight operators Jahari Essex and Danielle Durst, who hit every spot cue perfectly. This is not an easy feat, and really added to the performance as a whole as the spotlights were used frequently. Hair and makeup were by Brittany LaCross, Choreography was by Roberts and Natasha Nash, and Props were by Devin Burke.
While a “9 to 5” musical may not have been something the musical theatre world needed, this production was a lot of fun and featured very talented young actors and actresses. Although the whole show was a little low energy in staging and had hit or miss vocals, the excellent characterizations and comedic timing more than made up for any rough patches. The pace clipped along nicely, and the show as a whole doesn’t take itself too seriously which is to its advantage.
Check it out at the Malcom Field Theatre at SVSU on April 11-13 at 7:30, and April 14 at 3:00. Tickets can be purchased at the box office or online, and range between $12 and $16.