Sally Struthers Punches into Ogunquit's '9 to 5'
Music and lyrics by Dolly Parton; book by Patricia Resnick; based on the 20th Century Fox picture, originally produced on Broadway by Robert Greenblatt; director, Keith Andrews; music director, Andrew Austin; conductor, Ken Clifton; choreographer, Gerry McIntyre; set design, Robert Andrew Kovach; lighting design, Richard Latta; costume design, Trevor Brown; sound design, Jeremy Oleska; a co-production with Long Island's Gateway Playhouse
Cast on opening night:
Violet Newstead, Carrie McNulty; Doralee Rhodes, Becky Gulsvig; Judy Bernly, Erica Aubrey; Franklin Hart Jr., Ed Staudenmayer (replaced on 9/2 for the rest of the run by Matthew Ashford); Roz Keith, Sally Struthers; Joe, Peter Carrier; Dwayne, BrIan Patrick Murphy; Josh, Billy Marshall Jr.; Missy, Beth Glover; Maria, Rachel Arielle Yucht; Dick, Tim Barker; Kathy, Jaclyn Miller; Margaret, Beth Glover; Bob Enright, Jonathan Hoover; Tinsworthy, Tim Barker; Detective, Tim Barker; Doctor, Scott Hamilton; Candy Striper, Amy Van Norstrand; New Employee, Nathan Scott Hancock
Now through September 15, Ogunquit Playhouse, 10 Main Street, Ogunquit, Maine; tickets start at $39 and are available by calling the Box Office at 207-646-5511 or online at www.ogunquitplayhouse.org.
The Ogunquit Playhouse on the picturesque seacoast of Maine might as well give Sally Struthers the key to the theater. After all, she already owns the stage every time she makes an appearance there.
Now in her 10th straight year of trotting the boards at the venerable 80-year-old summer theater, Struthers proves once again that she is pure comic genius. In the featured role of office snitch Roz in Dolly Parton's Broadway musical misfire 9 to 5 (based on the 1980 hit movie that starred Parton alongside Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda), Struthers turns a near cameo into a tour de force – or is that tour de farce? Walking a very fine line between villainy and vulgarity, she convulses the audience with outrageous bits that leave patrons alternately howling and wondering, "Did she really do that?"
Thank goodness, too, for the rest of 9 to 5: The Musical is an uncomfortable mish-mash of prurient adolescent humor and forgettable country-pop tunes that are wedged awkwardly into Patricia Resnick's faithful-to-the-movie book. Adapted from Resnick's own story (and screenplay by Colin Higgins), the musical squanders its potential to resonate today as it did 32 years ago by ratcheting up the movie's farcical humor to such an exaggerated degree that beloved underdog secretaries Violet (Carrie McNulty), Doralee (Becky Gulsvig), and Judy (Erica Aubrey) become broadly drawn cartoons incapable of stirring empathy as they turn the tables on their "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" of a boss Franklin Hart Jr. (Ed Staudenmayer*).
The film's story of three hapless office workers whose revenge fantasies inadvertently become reality has no where to go in this musical. From the outset the characters are larger than life, so when circumstances spin riotously out of control – literally turning the office pig into a hog-tied hostage – the trio's increasingly more lunatic attempts to manage the situation don't spin along with them. Even worse, the feminists-in-the-making show very little genuine vulnerability early on, making their transformations from "girls" to women uninspiring.
You would think that the movie that spawned Parton's enduring workplace anthem – and which shared its title with the then newly formed National Association of Working Women – could succeed as a Broadway musical. Certainly its title song is catchy and theatrical, and its themes (unfortunately) still relevant today. Yet, this adaptation feels uncommitted to the truth that sparks its humor. Instead of establishing its characters as real people who slowly become more and more unraveled – and ultimately more empowered at the same time – this 9 to 5 is all hat and no cattle. It begins with the song that everybody knows by heart and goes nowhere but downhill from there.
Crude, lewd, and at times downright sadistic, 9 to 5: The Musical musters no warmth or sympathy for its heroines. Instead of being caught up in an escalating swirl of desperation that leads to unintended comic torture, these ladies seem to revel in the pain they inflict on their misogynistic employer. Since the same can not be said for the trio in the show's more appealing source material, the musical's misguided concept must ultimately be laid at the feet of the director (on Broadway that was Joe Mantello).
Here Keith Andrews and his highly caffeinated design team are to blame. The physical world they have created for this production is as broadly, and oddly, exaggerated as the performances. Garish costumes, ratty oversized wigs, and comic book sets dominated by fluorescent lights and psychedelic color schemes scream 1970s to the point of distraction. Gerry McIntyre's choreography is a frenetic collision of disjointed disco moves and gymnastic desk-hopping that does nothing to express a cohesive point of view. Dolly Parton herself even makes an appearance as the "narrator," opening and closing the show in a cheesy self-promotional video. As a result, very little in this production rings true.
In addition, the show's talented cast never seems to coalesce, despite the fact that they are fresh off a one-month run at the Gateway Playhouse on Long Island. The leading ladies do have their moments, however, especially when their characters finally emerge from their respective cocoons. McNulty as Violet and Gulsvig as Doralee muster genuine pluck when taking their individual stands against the obnoxious Mr. Hart, and Aubrey, quirky and endearing as the sheltered Judy, visibly grows a spine as she dispatches her philandering ex-husband one last time with the best song in Parton's score, "Get out and Stay Out." Another highlight is the pot-induced pity party during which the trio bonds and giddily shares graphic fantasies of exacting workplace revenge.
Ultimately 9 to 5: The Musical works much too hard to be successful. The rest of the company should take a memo from Sally Struthers: never let them see you sweat.
PHOTOS BY JAY GOLDSMITH: Ed Staudenmayer as Franklin Hart Jr. and Sally Struthers as Roz Keith; Carrie McNulty as Violet Newstead, Becky Gulsvig as Doralee Rhodes, and Erica Aubrey as Judy Bernly; Ed Stuadenmayer, Erica Aubrey, Carrie McNulty and Becky Gulsvig; Ed Staudenmayer and Becky Gulsvig