Review: 9 TO 5 THE MUSICAL at Firebrand Theatre
Firebrand Theatre's production of 9 TO 5 THE MUSICAL makes a good deal of sense for the company to stage, especially as it's the first show directed by Artistic Director Harmony France. This outsized, comical musical focuses on three women navigating office politics in 1979 as they plot revenge against their company's sexist and outlandish CEO. With songs by Dolly Parton and a book by Patricia Resnick, 9 TO 5 is a fun romp of a musical with a bluegrass twinge and tons of laughs.
Passion and enthusiasm fuel Firebrand's production. The musical itself, however, still has some shortcomings. It's overly broad and doesn't entirely know what to do with the CEO figure of Franklin Hart. Hart is both an uncomfortable figure and a seemingly incompetent joke. In the role, Scott Danielson does well to find an ideal balance between creepy and comic, while also stepping aside to let the female leading players command center stage. 9 TO 5 also unfortunately makes light of some other rather weighty issues, particularly one employee's battle with alcoholism (though she is played with as much integrity as possible by Elizabeth Morgan).
Music director Andra Velis Simon gives the show a full sound that fills the intimate Bookspan Theatre at the Den and Kasey Alfonso's choreography supplies a steady stream of energy. Set designer Eleanor Kahn's creations allow the ensemble to convey a wide range of spaces on the small stage, though much of France's staging takes place towards the back.
Smartly, France chooses to play up the fun to be found in 9 TO 5 and employs three powerhouse vocalists as the leading trio Violet, Doralee, and Judy. By far, these three women are the most compelling reason to see 9 TO 5. As long-time office veteran Violet, Anne Sheridan Smith plays the consummate professional to perfection while also showcasing her character's frustrations. Her second act rendition of "Shine Like The Sun" is a highlight. As Texas native Doralee (the role played by Parton herself in the original film), Sharriese Hamilton has such command that you're absolutely drawn to her. Though Doralee is meant to be the office outsider, however, little about Virgina Varland's overall lovely costume design seems to suggest that contrast (aside from a subtle pair of cowboy boots). Sara Reinecke is delightfully frenetic as office newcomer Judy, and then she quite brings down the house with her 11 o'clock stunner of a ballad "Get Out and Stay Out." Reinecke makes this moment huge. It is fitting that it becomes so central here because this number is one of the best overall in terms of developing a strong female character. The ensemble on the whole provide so much energy to the show, and Veronica Garza is particularly worth noting for her expert character work as Roz.
Overall, the production allows France to display her unique creative energy and her ability to craft a lively and also intimate musical theater production. Yet the choice of this particular title goes to show, too, how much room there is for musicals centered on women to grow. Nevertheless, it is heartwarming to see France choose a show with an all-female writing team as her company's second production, and it is a fun-filled evening that puts some great female talent at its center.
Firebrand Theatre's 9 TO 5 THE MUSICAL plays through May 20 at The Den Theatre. Tickets are $45, with student rush and industry tickets available for $20. Visit firebrandtheatre.org.
Photo by Emily Schwartz