Story: Judy Bernly, newly dumped by her husband for his secretary, arrives at Consolidated Industries looking for a job. She tells office manager Violet Newstead that she has no skills, but Violet takes pity on her and hires her anyway, advising her to watch how the employees get work done.
Doralee Rhodes, curvaceous secretary to the company’s lecherous boss, Franklin Hart Jr., attempts to befriend Judy but is rebuffed. Eventually she learns that the office workers believe she is having an affair with Hart, a rumor he has encouraged.
After Hart promotes another employee to an executive position, a young man who had been trained by Violet, she joins Judy and Doralee in expressing her disgust and anger with their sexist employer. When the three women find themselves with an opportunity to seek revenge, they imprison Hart in his own home. Violet starts running the office and Doralee forges Hart’s signature on documents.
With the help of Joe, a junior accountant who is attracted to the widowed Violet, they uncover an ongoing scam by Hart to “cook the books” at the office. Hart manages to escape and vows to punish the three women, but they in turn threaten to reveal his embezzling ways. Who will win this corporate battle and war?
Highlights: Artistic director Michael Hamilton leads an energized cast in a spirited, high-octane performance of this gleeful musical with serious undertones written by Dolly Parton and Patricia Resnick.
Other Info: Parton wrote the catchy music and clever lyrics for this 2009 musical that is based on a 1980 film which starred Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Parton. While it’s silly and fluffy on the surface, it deals with an issue that was prevalent in 1980 and still so today: Inequity in the work place and the struggle for women to break through the “glass ceiling” of leadership in corporate America.
Stages’ inaugural production of 9 to 5 moves sluggishly at first, with a number of sight gags that draw giggles and guffaws from the audience as “employees” ready themselves for the work day in the show’s opening and title number. It doesn’t take long, though, for Parton’s buoyant, optimistic music to take hold with her likable, infectious style.
Corinne Melancon anchors the show with a savvy, sympathetic portrayal of the long- suffering Violet, who shows newbie Judy the office ropes in the rollicking, stylish number, Around Here. That amusing, quick-paced tune is exemplified in clever little ways in James Wolk’s set design, down to the multi-hued filing folders moved from one desk to another in Wolk’s office layout.
There’s amusement, too, in the costumes concocted by Brad Musgrove, which exemplify Doralee’s physical attributes as well as pinpoint the sleaziness in Judy’s philandering husband Dick’s tacky wardrobe along with the buttoned-down attire favored by Judy, Violet and the “suits” at Consolidated Industries. Sean Savoie’s colorful lighting further enhances the airy effect.
Hamilton enlivens the fantasy scenes in which each of the ladies avenges Hart’s sexist behavior and showcase their own vocal and comedic talents. Summerisa Bell Stevens not only resembles Parton but has the singer’s down-home banter nailed in her portrayal of the good-hearted and smarter-than-she-looks Doralee as she warbles Cowgirl's Revenge as well as the earlier ballad, Backwoods Barbie.
Melancon sashays in a white suit amidst a backup group of dark-suited men in Potion Notion, while Laura E. Taylor fills the bill as a femme fatale on The Dance of Death number.
There are a number of impressive comic performances, most notably Kari Ely’s turn as Hart’s lovelorn HR director Roz Keith. With a Buster Brown haircut and the most unattractive of suits paired with an oversized pair of glasses, Ely sets the stage for an amusingly revealing look at Roz’s lust for her self-centered boss when she croons Heart to Hart.
Besides the polished work of Melancon, Taylor and Stevens, Hamilton gets fine performances from Joe Cassidy in the villainous role of the unrepentant Hart and Jason Michael Evans as Violet’s patient suitor Joe. Jacob Flakier plays Violet’s loving son Josh and Brent Michael Diroma portrays Doralee’s doting husband Dwayne.
Veteran Stages performers besides Ely who bolster the production include Zoe Vonder Haar as the tippling secretary Margaret, Steve Isom as Judy’s slimy mate Dick and Leah Berry as Hart’s oblivious, high-living wife Missy. John Flack plays a slow-witted detective as well as Consolidated’s observant chairman of the board, resplendent in his blindingly white Colonel Sanders suit and fedora.
Dana Lewis fills the stage with a number of sprightly choreographed routines augmented by Hamilton’s staging that showcase the musical’s verve. Lisa Campbell Albert adds precise musical direction and Stuart Elmore provides the rich orchestral design.
Parton’s music is as engaging as ever and Resnick’s book makes probing observations about inequality which continue to resonate decades after 9 to 5 was the second-biggest box office hit of 1980 (behind The Empire Strikes Back). This Stages presentation combines humor with high-energy music to pass the time in most agreeable fashion.
Musical: 9 to 5: The Musical
Company: Stages St. Louis
Venue: Reim Theatre, Kirkwood Civic Center, 111 South Geyer Road
Dates: Through August 20
Tickets: $25-$60; contact 821-2407 or stagesstlouis.org
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Peter Wochniak