Nashville Rep's Season-Opening 9 to 5: The Musical Kicks Off An Eagerly Anticipated Slate of Theater

Director Beki Baker and Choreographer Allison Little Give Fresh and Contemporary Feel to Musical by Dolly Parton

By: Sep. 24, 2023
Nashville Rep's Season-Opening 9 to 5: The Musical Kicks Off An Eagerly Anticipated Slate of Theater

Recently, during an act of attrition also known as cleaning off my desk (which I prefer to think of as an art installation entitled “The Detritus of A Theater Critic’s Life and Work, Abridged”), I happened upon five pages of handwritten notes torn from a book long since discarded. On those pages, in my florid script circa 2010 (before it went the way it did to look like something from a physician’s prescription pad), were quotes from director Jeff Calhoun and Tennessee’s patron saint of all things good and gracious, musical and melodious – Dolly Parton herself – from a press conference held at Tennessee Performing Arts Center prior to the launch of the national tour of 9 to 5: The Musical.

Nashville Rep's Season-Opening 9 to 5: The Musical Kicks Off An Eagerly Anticipated Slate of Theater
Megan Murphy Chambers, Mariah Parris,
Allyson A. Robinson and Geoffrey Davin

At the time, Dolly remarked on the synchronicity of opening the tour in Nashville: “Thirty years ago, in 1980, I opened in 9 to 5, the movie, the same year that TPAC opened. Now my Broadway musical has been restaged here, rehearsed here and we’re going to open the national tour right here on this stage.”

“This is a dream come true for me,” she continued. “Watching Jeff lead the rehearsals, it takes me back to the time I was working with the chorus boys in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas! Seeing my show reinvented, reconceived and reimagined for it to go on the road – I got goosebumps just talkin’ about it!”

Dolly called Nashville and TPAC the best place she could conceive of to kick off the next stage in the life of her first Broadway musical: “Everyone’s been great here – you know, I believe you should love the one you’re with, and this production is even better than what we had on Broadway. Of all the places we could have done this, Nashville is on the top of the list – for the Pancake Pantry alone.” She went on to praise tour stars Dee Hoty, Mamie Parris and Diana DeGarmo (who now calls Nashville home, to the delight of local theater-goers).

Nashville Rep's Season-Opening 9 to 5: The Musical Kicks Off An Eagerly Anticipated Slate of Theater Serendipitously, Dolly’s words from 13 years ago were bouncing around my brain on the night I was able to finally see Nashville Repertory Theatre’s absolutely stellar 2023-24 season opening production of 9 to 5: The Musical, directed by Beki Baker, with choreography by Allison Little and musical direction by Randy Craft. And even as the specter of Dolly Parton loomed large over the proceedings (her presence is felt everywhere in the Volunteer State, but she reigns over the show’s festivities while projected on the face of giant clock above the Polk Theatre stage), Baker and her creative team brought all their combined talents to bear with a revival that seemed, at once, to honor its Broadway heritage while creating a fresh and contemporary take on the story of three sharp (dare we say “brilliant”?) women battling for the very soul of the corporation for which they work, dueling for control with a stereotypical male supervisor/figurehead who’s nowhere near as savvy and smart as they are!

While Nashville Rep audiences know to expect a spectacular season-opening musical every year – what with a recent history of Avenue Q, Ragtime and Rent fresh in their memories – they were no doubt blown away by Baker and company’s take on the now time-honored musical. Judging from the reaction of the audience at the performance reviewed, they were having the times of their lives.

Nashville Rep's Season-Opening 9 to 5: The Musical Kicks Off An Eagerly Anticipated Slate of Theater Baker’s superb direction brings all the various moving parts of this huge production together to deliver a gratifyingly heartfelt paean to the millions of working women (and men) who inspired the screenplay and musical book by Patricia Resnick. Baker’s vision for the piece, in concert with her team of collaborators, delivers a production of 9 to 5: The Musical that is delightfully fresh and new, eschewing the tendency of some directors to offer a rehash of what’s already been seen on Broadway, on tour or in regional theater.

By casting Robinson, a Black woman, as Violet, Baker adds tremendous resonance to Resnick’s humorous, if often biting, satire on the world of corporate intrigue ensuring that contemporary audiences can identify with 9 to 5: The Musical more intimately than if simply staged as a 1980s period piece. Clearly, it adds much-appreciated gravitas to what otherwise could be construed as a dated tale of worker displeasure and unrest.

That sense of newly reinvigorated creativity is represented by every step choreographed by Allison Little who delivers a fast-moving, wonderfully theatrical, all-dancing/all-singing show that seems inspired by, rather than dependent upon, what’s been done before. Her dance numbers are highly original and breathtakingly energetic.

Nashville Rep's Season-Opening 9 to 5: The Musical Kicks Off An Eagerly Anticipated Slate of Theater Likewise, Randy Craft and his top-flight orchestra (which includes Gregg Perry on keyboards – he was the producer on Dolly’s original recording of “9 to 5,” the song) deliver Parton’s awe-inspiring musical score with substantial skill and utmost professionalism. We can just imagine how impressed Miss Parton herself would be by the musicianship of the players in the orchestra pit.

Just above the musicians’ talented heads, right smack-dab on the stage of Polk Theatre – led by the spectacular trio of Allyson A. Robinson, Megan Murphy Chambers and Mariah Parris Nashville Rep’s 9 to 5: The Musical features a startlingly impressive ensemble featuring the talents of Evelyn O’Neal, Jonah Jackson, Justin Marriel Boyd, Duglas Waterbury-Tieman, Garris Wimmer, Angela Madaline-Johnson, Maria Logan, Katie Bruno, Ian Frazier, Jailin Roberts, Melissa Steadman, Jalen Walker, David Murphy and Meggan Utech. With the sublime Geoffrey Davin as Franklin Hart Jr., a role perfectly suited to his particular attributes (who knew he could play a sexist pig so adroitly – or so ideally?), it seems an embarrassment of riches and a thrilling launch to an anticipated season of live theater from the region’s leading professional company.

The chemistry among the three leading players is palpable, with the women delivering performances that will have you turning to the Google (which we didn’t have in 1980, I should remind you) in order to recall who before them played the roles. Robinson, in her Nashville Rep debut, makes the most of every moment onstage, putting every bit of her staggering stage presence on display to show off Violet’s business acumen and personal empathy for her co-workers. She commands the stage in every scene, ensuring that her musical numbers – particularly the show-stopping “One of the Boys” – lands perfectly to the sheer exultation of every person in the audience.

Nashville Rep's Season-Opening 9 to 5: The Musical Kicks Off An Eagerly Anticipated Slate of Theater Murphy Chambers, perhaps the best-known and most beloved musical theater actor currently on a Nashville stage, is a dead-ringer for Dolly Parton herself as Doralee, the private secretary to Davin’s Franklin Hart who bears the brunt of sexual harassment in the piece. Thanks to Murphy Chambers’ enormous onstage appeal (we can attest that offstage she is equally charming), she elicits even more empathy for Doralee’s plight, delivering a moving rendition of “Backwoods Barbie” that touches the heart and soothes the soul.

As Judy Bernly, the recently divorced office neophyte at Consolidated Industries, Parris adds yet another impressive performance to her burgeoning resume, while showing off her amazing versatility. Her performance of Judy’s feminist anthem, that comes late in Act Two, “Get Out and Stay Out” is stunning! Parris, the actor, is always able to shed her own skin, as it were, to take on the mantle of a fictional character to bring her to life with great heart and physical dexterity. Yet who ever knew before this just how much she looks like Jane Fonda? We’ll give credit to Lori Gann-Smith’s costumes and Melissa K. Durmon’s wigs for making the transformation easier, but obviously it’s Parris’ chameleon-like qualities that finish the job.

Perhaps the most entertaining and memorable musical number of the evening, which features the three leading women in a magnificent tableau of commitment, camaraderie and confidence, is the Act One closer “Shine Like the Sun,” which we could listen to on a continuous loop for a long time to come.

Nashville Rep's Season-Opening 9 to 5: The Musical Kicks Off An Eagerly Anticipated Slate of Theater
Evelyn O'Neal and company

While Davin threatens to steal every scene he is in – he’s such a deft comedian, with impeccable timing, I am still dumbstruck – the top honors for that unique capability, particularly in this production of 9 to 5: The Musical goes to Evelyn O’Neal for her spirited, deliciously zany and perfectly modulated portrayal of office toady Roz Keith. O’Neal has never been funnier and she delivers the goods with her rendition of “Heart to Hart” which has the power to reduce you to gales of laughter in recollection of her dazzling performance.

Nashville Rep's Season-Opening 9 to 5: The Musical Kicks Off An Eagerly Anticipated Slate of Theater
Geoffrey Davis and Allyson A. Robinson

Gary C. Hoff ‘s scenic design for the production is clever, colorful and multi-functional, lighted beautifully by Dalton Hamilton’s gorgeous illumination, while Mark Zuckerman’s sound design allows every note sung, every word spoken to be heard with ease. Gann-Smith’s 1980s era costumes clothe her actors in period-perfect style, yet somehow look far more fashionable than I remember officefolk wearing way, way back in the day.

And finally, kudos to Lauren Yawn for her noteworthy props design – they helped to transport everyone back to the 1980s with charm and finesse.

9 to 5: The Musical. Music and lyrics by Dolly Parton. Book by Patricia Resnick. Based on the 20th Century Fox Picture. Directed by Beki Baker. Musical direction by Randy Craft. Choreographed by Allison Little. Stage managed by Daniel C. Brewer. Presented by Nashville Repertory Theatre, at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s James K. Polk Theatre. For more information about the remainder of Nashville Rep’s 2023-24 season, visit

photos by Michael Scott Evans

BroadwayWorld Awards Voting


Geoff Sobelles FOOD Defies Description, But Still We Make an Attempt Photo
Geoff Sobelle's FOOD Defies Description, But Still We Make an Attempt

Now onstage at Oz Arts Nashville in a ten-performance run through Sunday, December 10, FOOD both defies description and demands it: if, for example, you are like me and found yourself so caught up in the sheer spectacle and drama of Sobelle’s stunning performance on opening night only to be unable to really talk about it for at least half an hour after...

Frist Art Museum Presents CARVING A NEW TRADITION: THE ART OF LATOYA M. HOBBS, January 26– April 28

The Frist Art Museum presents Carving a New Tradition: The Art of LaToya M. Hobbs, an exhibition of recent woodblock prints and mixed-media portraits from the Arkansas-born, Baltimore-based painter and printmaker.

Geoff Sobelle Brings FOOD to Oz Arts Nashville Photo
Geoff Sobelle Brings FOOD to Oz Arts Nashville

Although Geoff Sobelle’s life currently focuses on food – or, more aptly, FOOD – he admits that he’s never considered himself a “foodie.” In fact, he’s never really used the term. “I have two toddlers at home,” he says. “So, we don’t go out to restaurants very much at all, and that seems a big part of being a foodie. With toddlers, my life has changed.”

COLLEGIATE THEATRICS: Logan Purcell of Middle Tennessee State University Photo
COLLEGIATE THEATRICS: Logan Purcell of Middle Tennessee State University

We continue to celebrate the return of Collegiate Theatrics with an interview featuring one of our favorites from the theatre department at Middle Tennessee State University in nearby Murfreesboro: Logan Purcell, a native of Gallatin, Tennessee, who will be graduating in 2025. We know Logan from his onstage appearances in MTSU’s productions of Fun Home, Cabaret and Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella in which his talents were on prominent display.

From This Author - Jeffrey Ellis

Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 35 years. In 1989, Ellis and his partner launched Dare, Tennes... Jeffrey Ellis">(read more about this author)


The Sound of Music in Nashville The Sound of Music
Source One Five (12/15-12/17)Tracker
The Cher Show (Non-Equity) in Nashville The Cher Show (Non-Equity)
Tennessee Performing Arts Center (1/19-1/20)
Beetlejuice in Nashville Beetlejuice
Tennessee Theatre (6/11-6/16)
Come From Away (Non-Equity) in Nashville Come From Away (Non-Equity)
Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium (1/20-1/21)
To Kill a Mockingbird in Nashville To Kill a Mockingbird
Tennessee Theatre (4/02-4/07)
Annie (Non-Equity) in Nashville Annie (Non-Equity)
Tennessee Performing Arts Center (3/27-3/30)
The Winter Wonderettes - a 1960s Jukebox Musical in Nashville The Winter Wonderettes - a 1960s Jukebox Musical
Hendersonville Performing Arts Company (11/30-12/17)
On Your Feet (Non-Equity) in Nashville On Your Feet (Non-Equity)
Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center (4/02-4/02)
Girl From the North Country in Nashville Girl From the North Country
Tennessee Performing Arts Center (1/30-2/04)
Beetlejuice in Nashville Beetlejuice
Tennessee Performing Arts Center (3/12-3/17)

Recommended For You