Talent Triumphs over Material in 9 to 5: The Musical
If there was a list of films that seemed destined to be musicalized, 1980's "Nine to Five" * would most certainly be in the top ten. Three strong, varied female leads... check. Sexist, smarmy boss with a smitten side-kick... check. Interesting background characters, a murderous dream sequence, a timely moral message about female empowerment and even a "flying" sequence... check for all of the above!
Sure enough, two of the originators of the film, writer Patricia Resnick and composer/star Dolly Parton embraced the project and gave Broadway "9 to 5: The Musical" in 2009. The show ran for a short 148 performances and featured Stephanie Block, Allison Janney, Meg Hilty and Marc Kudisch in the roles made famous respectively by Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Parton and Dabney Coleman. Although the production did not live a long, happy life on Broadway, it seemed destined to thrive in community theater, and happily, is doing so at the Spa Little Theater through October 28th thanks to Home Made Theater.
For the 3 or 4 of you who haven't seen the movie and could use a plot synopsis, newcomer Judy (Karen Kolterman, returning to HMT), efficient Violet (Amy-Lin Slezak-Nelson, making her HMT debut) and bombshell Doralee (HMT veteran Molly McGrath) all suffer various forms of abuse from their sexist, clueless boss Franklin Hart (HMT veteran John Sutliff). When they mistakenly believe they've accidentally poisoned and killed him, only to find out later he tricked them, they kidnap him, hold him hostage in his own home, and begin making substantial upgrades and changes at the office. The possibilities for both hilarious and moving situations, both at Hart's home and at the office, are endless.
HMT is blessed with three supremely talented actors in the leading trio. All three possess strong acting and singing skills and each inhabits their role like a second skin. The role of Violet is arguably the dominant figure in the stage production and Slezak-Nelson is more than up to the task. She creates a solid, grounded woman not afraid to take charge and is equally comfortable displaying her glorious soprano on "Potion Notion,” belting out a large ensemble piece in her alto range, and singing the lovely duet "Let Love Grow" with Marc Andrzejewski as Joe. The latter role is added as a possible love interest for Violet in the stage production and the only drawback is that we don't get to hear Andrzejewski's golden voice more. The role is a welcome addition and balance to the less likable males in the story.
McGrath's Doralee, while not a carbon copy of Parton's, proves that she was destined to play this role, and frankly, she knocks every one of her songs and scenes right out of the park. Her scenes with Hart are some of the funniest in the show. Kolterman's exquisite voice is not quite as powerful as her teammates, which keeps the 11 o'clock powerhouse number "Get Out and Stay Out" from providing quite the gut-punch it's intended to give. However, her comic timing and quirky, fun facial expressions and delivery complete the trio to perfection. Sutliff, while not as overbearing and vaguely dangerous as one might hope in the role of Hart, appears to be having the time of his life portraying this sleaze-bag of a stereotype.
In supporting roles, Tim Christensen is effective playing Judy's ex-husband Dick, who rivals Hart as the most despicable character, although at least Hart provides us opportunities to laugh. Dick is such an unlikable character that he provides the inspiration for the above mentioned 11 o'clock number. Dawn Oesch as Hart's smitten, sneaky assistant Roz, is great fun right from the start, although one may find Roz more of a childish, petulant brat by the end of the show. Nonetheless, she garnered huge laughs in every scene and added a feminine foe for our heroes, which is a good balance for the plot. Threatening to steal every scene she appeared in, even in the background, is Cindy Boyka as Margaret, the office lush. Even in ensemble numbers, one's eyes are consistently drawn to her sloppily trying to mimic her clearer-minded and clear-eyed office mates.
Kudos to Laurie Larson, directing and choreographing her first "adult" production at HMT for keeping the pace moving, as well as the cast. While the choreography certainly reveals who the experienced dancers among the ensemble are, it does not embarrass those with less training. Musical Director Richard Cherry leads a four part pit orchestra, which starts out heavy on the trumpet (making lyrics in the opening number hard to understand) and light on keyboard. Most of the balance evened out as the night progressed, and he has led the cast to some absolutely glorious full-ensemble choral work. Although the women ensemble number is far, far stronger than the men's, the full ensemble work is consistently excellent.
The only real drawbacks of the show itself for this reviewer is an occasionally slow script and the rather lackluster score which contains only 2-3 really interesting songs....not enough to send me to Amazon.com for the original Broadway cast recording. A lesser drawback is that the show basically replicates the film and doesn't offer anything new except the happy addition of the character Joe, and several new songs. There are reasons why the Broadway production garnered 26 various award nominations, but only 1 win.
While the excellent set (including two proscenium arches covered in over-sized office memos, but excluding the large, clunky toilet stall unit that had to be hauled in and out for just one brief scene) and lighting add immensely to the experience, confused and inconsistent costumes and the lack of Hart's garage-door opener flying is a head-scratching disappointment. Perhaps there was a technical glitch opening night that prevented Hart from becoming airborne, but since this is the one visual trick every filmgoer is giddily waiting to see, its absence leaves a small, gaping hole in the second act.
The opening night audience thoroughly enjoyed themselves and this promises to be a very healthy, happy run for HMT to open their 28th season with. So whether you work 9 to 5, 5 to 9 or can name your own hours, head over to the Spa State Park and join the fun for some light, fun entertainment. Just in case you haven't seen HMT's delightful online ad featuring Saratogian's working "9 to 5" to the theme song, you can watch it on YouTube.
"9 to 5: The Musical"
Home Made Theater at the Spa Little Theater, Saratoga Spa State Park.
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm through October 28
Tickets $29/$26, student and senior discounts available
Optional Dinner Package available with Longfellows Restaurant.
Ticket Reservations: (518)587-4427 or at homemadetheater.org.
Valerie Lord has been involved in the Capital District theatre scene for years as a music director, pianist and actor. A world traveler, still working in theater and a master gardener with Cornell Cooperative Extension, she covers all aspects of theater for Saratoga Wire
* Full Disclosure: A Co-Publisher of Saratoga Wire is performing in the orchestra for this production
ON THE WIRE