The music '9 to 5' comically celebrates the every day trials of corporate life
STAGES St. Louis adds a lot of comedy and sass to their season, plus songs by Dolly Parton, with an entertaining production of 9 to 5. The musical is bright, lively and filled with the best scenes from the hit movie starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton. The story's heroes are an unlikely trio of women who have one important characteristic in common: they are trying to make their way in the male-dominated, 1980s corporate world.
Violet, a single mom with more experience and corporate savvy than the majority of the men in her office wants respect and the place at the leadership table she's earned. Insecure, nervous, and in the final stages of a divorce, Judy needs a job and simply wants to make it through her first day without getting fired. Doralee, the boss's va-va-va-voom secretary, just wants to be one of the girls instead of the subject of office outcast. Each woman's life changes for the better, and, to sweeten the deal, their sexist, bigoted, chauvinistic boss gets some well-deserved comeuppance.
Corinne Melançon anchors the show as Violet, exuding both warmth and capability in a way that suggests a natural leader. A widow with a teenaged son and no time for romance, even her songs have a sense of the hard working, fair-minded ethic she personifies. Whether she's fixing things around the house, deflecting the attentions of a younger coworker, or fantasizing about the death of the boss after sharing a joint with Judy and Doralee, she inspires the type of confidence that makes you certain everything will be ok.
Laura E. Taylor hits all the right notes, literally and in terms of character, as Judy. Timid and easily discouraged at the start of the show, she learns that she is capable of standing up for herself and deserves better than the life and mistreatment she settled for. Judy's character goes through a complete change in the story, both internally and externally, and Taylor blooms in response. From her posture to her voice and willingness to speak up, she embodies Judy's transformation in a striking performance.
Summerisa Bell Stevens charms and cajoles as Doralee Rhodes, and her voice rings true and fine even through the country twang she adds for the part. The recipient of her bosses unwanted affection and gifts, Doralee is indefatigably kind and perky, as well as the last to know the rumors that cause the other women to avoid her company. Stevens expertly references Parton's original character, which is important to the show's comic premise, without becoming an impersonation of the singer, songwriter, and occasional actress.
A capable and entertaining cast, filled with top-notch dancers who also understand the importance of comic timing, provide outstanding support for the three leading women. Joe Cassidy, as the smarmy, offensive boss Franklin Hart, Jr., successfully shows no heart at all. As violet's son Josh, Jacob Flekier adds depth to Violet's character through their relationship and his procurement of pot, while Jason Michael Evans is endearing and persistent as Joe, a younger coworker with a serious romantic inclination towards Violet. Brent Michael Diroma is flirtatious and supportive, if a bit naïve, as Doralee's cheerleader husband Dwayne and Steve Isom is comically creepy as Dick, Judy's appropriately named husband.
Leah Berry and John Flack provide depth in the ensemble, and Kari Ely is on key and flat out hilarious as office tattletale Roz Keith. She's an absolute hoot from her Jane Fonda aerobics to her secret strip tease and enthusiasm for the French language. Director Michael Hamilton employs just the right touch here, keeping the show focused but loose, allowing for laughter rather than forcing it.
The show also gets strong support and high marks for the technical and stagecraft elements. Music director Lisa Campbell Albert gives the show a driving beat and positive tone, and the arrangements feature some fine harmonies. The set makes every changeover feel immediate and effortless, and the few times the cast moves set pieces are well choreographed. The 1980's era and fashion is communicated with spot on costumes and wigs, and the lighting and sound add effective, unobtrusive touches.
Strong, engaging performances aside, the show doesn't completely work for me. The premise is funny, but it's just one long joke. While I deeply respect Parton's skills as a songwriter and singer, a few of the songs feel like padding. I think this exaggerated realism wears on the cast a bit as well; with the exception of the title number, the best songs are the ones that live in the actor's fantasies. The comedy really works, but the storyline falters; perhaps as a musical the show works best played for laughs. The result is that the show feels a little too long and a story that plods in places.
Stages St. Louis's version of the popular movie 9 to 5, running through August 20, 2017, is a fun story, with plenty of light comedy and some standout songs. The underlying messages about respect and finding your place in the world are nice, though clunky, and the show wins with its can do attitude and humor. Captivating performances from Melançon, Taylor, and Stevens, and solid support from the ensemble, ensure an enjoyable night of theater.