Three Wonder Womyn
by Jason Applegate
Based on the 1980 film starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton, 9 to 5 the Musical tells the same zany story of three women who overthrow their misogynistic boss and finally get the recognition they deserve. While firmly set in the 1980, this 2009 adaptation with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton and book by Patricia Resnick, addresses issues of gender inequality and a rigged patriarchal system that are just as relevant in 2019. While the musical tends to take the feminist revenge story of the film and waters it down into slapstick and cheap nostalgic gags, there is no ignoring that it maintains three very different, but equally empowered female characters who resist the patriarchal construct. Three Wonder Womyn, “spelled W-O-M-Y-N.”
Director Ric Roberts did a superb job in casting these three female protagonists. Jessica Hurley embodies Violet Newstead’s savvy wit and strength of character. In “One of the Boys” Hurley performs with confidence and pizazz and in her concluding monologue where she vents about being fed up about the glass ceiling brought well-deserved cheers and applause from the audience. Brianne Dolney successfully completes the character arc of Judy Bernly from bumbling and helpless to successful and full of self-worth. Her performance of “Get Out and Stay Out” is inspiring only because she is so believable in portraying a character who just might go back to her Dick of a husband. So we cheer when she kicks him to the curb. Abby Burgess was absolutely convincing in her portrayal of Doralee Rhodes. She struck the perfect balance it takes when playing an iconic character who was originated on film by an iconic performer by adapting her gestures, mannerisms, and vocal work to pay tribute to Dolly Parton without parodying her. Abby was very authentic in her portrayal of a Texas woman who was used to and sick of everyone judging her by her appearance.
In addition to the three talented leading ladies, Holly Houck nearly steals the show as loyal spinster, Roz Keith. She portrays a character so stern and bookish that the audience raves to find in Houck’s performance of “Heart to Hart” that Roz is bursting at the seams with repressed sexuality. There were many other stand out performances from the ensemble. My eye was often drawn to Jake Fultz, Alyssa Yankee, Olivia Greanias, and Colton Jordan during large group numbers because they performed with character and confidence. Colton had a particularly satisfying “pick up the pencil” moment when he snatched a prop that had fallen to the floor in character. Another moment worth recognizing was when the cast continued with a scene change even when the curtain had snagged on an instrument when being lowered. It made it easy for the audience to ignore the snafu and stay in the moment.
The set, props, and costumes transport you immediately to 1980. I absolutely adored the colorful costumes. Costume designer, Jennifer Lothian, managed to keep the three leads in blue, yellow, and red for the entire show and yet the costumes differed enough from each other that this did not get monotonous. And oh the polyester!!! It is so rewarding to see props that fit the era and Devin Burke must have raided every garage sale in the area. My two favorite set pieces, designed by Jerry Dennis, were the elevator with sliding doors and the copy machine that looked like something from The Price Is Right. The lighting and projection by Peggy Mead-Finizio accentuated the show despite some late cues that do happen on an opening night. The fantasy sequence spanning three songs was particularly clever in its use of projected images to create three distinct genres of fiction. The musicians and orchestra director Norm Wika had a good balance and didn’t miss a note.
While Saginaw Valley State University’s production of 9 to 5 the Musical was enjoyable, the opening number was a bit underwhelming. It lacked the energy and polished performances that would have had the audience moving and grooving in their seats. While overall the numbers got stronger as the musical went along, there were moments in many of the other songs when lead characters and ensemble alike just weren’t selling out vocally and physically. This certainly is not a result of ability because performers showed their talent in other songs. It is my hope that in future performances actors become confident enough to push all the chips into the middle of the table as they gain confidence in their choices, notes, and choreography.
Overall, 9 to 5 the Musical is colorful and vibrant and it’s sure to improve with every performance. Go see it at Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts in Saginaw Valley State University. You will be transported to 1980 and wonder how the heck we ever let men get away with acting like that in the first place and hopefully shake your head in shame at the continued mansplaining that exists thirty years later. But there’s hope for our society when women like Doralee, Judy, and Violet strike a power pose in defiance. Shatter those ceilings ladies. We’re all better off when you do.
Additional credits: Kevin Simons (Vocal Music Director), Aubree Harrell (Assistant Director), Ric Roberts and Natasha Nash (Co-choreographers), Lucas Inman (Sound Designer), Brittany LaCross (Make-up and Hair Designer), Amber Tanner (Stage manager), Kevin Cole (Guest Pianist)
SVSU’s production of 9 to 5 the Musical run through Sunday, April 14th at Malcolm Fields Theatre for Performing Arts. Tickets are available at the box office or online at https://www.svsu.edu/theatre/.