BWW Reviews: 9 TO 5: THE MUSICAL Is More Than Just Nostalgic Fun At The Roxy
Tennessee’s favorite daughter Dolly Parton’s spirit can be felt in every scene and every song—heck, every moment—of 9 to 5: The Musical, now playing at Clarksville’s Roxy Regional Theatre through October 13. In fact, her very heartbeat reverberates throughout the fun, fast-paced musical diversion that is fairly faithful to the movie upon which it is based. And much like Dolly herself, there’s a lot of campy flash to be found in 9 to 5: The Musical, but at its core it is a genuinely felt, warmly conveyed story of aspirational hope and glory.
Starring Amanda Morgan, Lital Abrahams and Broadway veteran Bailey Hanks in the roles originated by Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Parton herself in the 1980 film, 9 to 5: The Musical provides the perfect vehicle for a musical score composed by Dolly herself, who may well be the most successful woman ever in country music. Her Tony Award-nominated score proves that Dolly is a gifted musical theater tunesmith, writing songs that do what showtunes should do: move the plot forward and express the characters' larger than life thoughts and dreams – the stuff of which Dolly's very own career is made.
Using Patricia Resnick’s updated script from the show’s national tour—she also penned the original screenplay for the film—9 to 5: The Musical at The Roxy delves deeper into what makes the characters tick, focusing on their humanity to make the show a universal tale about workers’ rights and the burgeoning women’s movement of 1979. 9 to 5: The Musical makes no pretensions about being anything other than what it is—which is great fun!—nor does it aspire to be some sort of life-changing, high-falutin’ art. Rather, the musical succeeds with its middlebrow goals of entertaining people and gettin’ butts in the seats.
Directed and staged by Tom Thayer, with choreography by Jessica Davidson, the Roxy’s 9 to 5 features an appearance by Dolly Parton herself—in video form, she opens and closes the show just as she did for the national tour—and you can’t for a second forget that it’s her vision you’re seeing onstage (and thanks to Hanks’ stellar portrayal of Doralee Rhodes, her onstage doppelganger keeps her planted firmly in your mind).
The story hews closely to what you’ll remember from the movie, so there’s nothing to disappoint fans of that iconic film comedy. Violet (Morgan), Judy (Abrahams) and Doralee (Hanks) work for the bigoted, sexist Franklin Hart Jr. (played with relish by Colin Ryan) at Consolidated Industries, one of those all-encompassing, multi-national corporations that give multi-national corporations—and the people who run them—a bad name. Violet’s been working for “the man” for years, virtually running the whole operation, but because she is a woman she gets short shrift when it’s time for career advancement. Judy’s newly divorced and forced to fend for herself for the first time in her life. And Doralee’s a buxom Texan with platinum hair, with a brain much more developed than workplace stereotypes will allow.
When Violet accidently pours rat poison into Hart’s coffee, the three women hatch a plot to remain free from arrest, to hold onto their jobs and to improve workplace conditions for everyone at the office. For the plan to succeed, however, they must hold Hart hostage in his own home, ship off the pesky office brown-nose Roz to Denver for a month-long French language immersion course and figure out how Hart has managed to bilk millions from the company’s coffers. It’s all just another day at the office, right?
As farfetched as it may sound, it’s perfectly plausible in Resnick’s creative treatment and, thanks to Parton’s score, the action moves along at a tuneful pace while the characters express themselves vividly in song. Opening with the title tune—“9 to 5”—which sets your feet to tapping along with enthusiasm, the score features the appropriate-for-country-radio “Backwoods Barbie” (performed with heartrending poignancy by Hanks), the show-stopping second act “One of the Boys” (which gives Morgan an opportunity to cavort about the stage, backed by four handsome men) and the powerful anthem “Get Out and Stay Out” (Abrahams’ performance is certain to bring down the house). Let’s face it: Dolly Parton is an amazingly gifted artist who understands the power of musical theater to transform and transport its audiences.
Amanda Morgan is efficiently perfect as Violet, delivering her lines with emotional power and focus, and her voice (“One of the Boys” will knock your socks off) and demeanor make her the ideal woman to lead the ensemble.
The gorgeous Bailey Hanks has stage presence (that indefinable spark that all actors strive for) to spare and it’s clear she’s a star still in the making: Her performance of Doralee is spot-on, her timing impeccable. She commands your attention every moment she is onstage or opens her mouth.
But 9 to 5: The Musical is really Judy’s show and Lital Abrahams makes the most of her time onstage, creating a character who is thoroughly believable and almost disarmingly charming. Her performance of “Get Out and Stay Out” will remain in your memory for a long time; it’s a stunning number made all the more powerful by Abrahams’ expressive performance.
Ryan is wonderfully smarmy and snarky as Hart, savoring every disdainful utterance that comes out of his mouth. He’s a capable musical theater performance with impressive comedy chops—which is essential to keep Hart from becoming a stereotypical mustache-twirling villain.
As Joe, the junior accountant with romantic intentions toward the more mature Violet, Matt Varella shows off his leading man credentials. His duet with Morgan—“Let Love Grow”—is appealingly romantic and, to be honest, it doesn’t hurt that he has a butt you could serve tea on…
Jill Twiss is fine as the officious Roz, although her “Heart to Hart” seems underplayed; Jama Bowen is raucously fun as the office lush Margaret; and the scene-stealing Kaitlin Doughty is terrific as Missy, Hart’s tarted-up “Real Housewife of 9 to 5: The Musical.”
Among the rest of the ensemble, Ryan Bowie is terrific as Doralee’s devoted husband Dwayne; Rob Rodems is his usual hilarious self as Judy’s ex-husband, the appropriately named Dick; and Matt Casey makes a strong Roxy debut as Violet’s son, the pot-pushing Josh. The Roxy’s artistic director John McDonald makes a cameo appearance as Consolidated’s head honcho Russell Tinsworthy. And, finally, the versatile Michelle Foletta and Emily Eden complete the cast as company secretaries.
- 9 to 5: The Musical. Music and lyrics by Dolly Parton. Book by Patricia Resnick. Directed and staged by Tom Thayer. Choreographed by Jessica Davidson. Presented by The Roxy Regional Theatre, Clarksville. Through October 13. For details, go to www.RoxyRegionalTheatre.org. For reservations, call (931) 645-7699.