No one should be surprised that a full scale musical was ever based on a Dolly Parton song. Much of her pop/country music supports lyrics that tell stories, often populated by descriptions of colorful characters that support the plot, and 9 to 5 is one of them.
It is 1979. New York City. Offices are still populated by typewriters that clatter and telephones that ring, both loudly. Computer keyboards, cell phones and other products of our daily life that reduce the noise of a workday atmosphere have yet to be invented. Plus, all desks are still parked back to back, much like an extension of the class room, where all workers can still see each other; soul destroying cubes have not yet developed.
Three women of differing backgrounds, Violet, Doralee and Judy, prepare for another day at the office, working under the direction of the one man in NYC who can safely be described as a lying, hypocritical, egotistical bigot: Franklin Hart, Jr.. “What do you call a woman who has lost ninety percent of her intelligence?” Hart jokes with the boys. “Divorced.”
Working under the lecherous Hart is hell for the women. One day, pushed to their collective limit, they finally take their revenge; they kidnap him, connect him to the mechanical garage opener and harness him up so that he hangs there like a demented Peter Pan on a wire above the bed. Then they run the company their way, increasing productivity by twenty percent. It’s girl power in action. “I’ve never seen a man leap frog to the top so fast,” Violet laments, “And I’ve got the bad back to prove it.”
As a musical, 9 to 5 is lightweight fare, and even though in spirit it evokes the memory of How To Succeed In Business… the other Broadway musical of life in an NYC office, 9 to 5 doesn’t have the gravitas, yet it’s bight, bubbly fun all the same and a lot funnier than the 1980 movie version, upon which this musical originates.
The three delightful leads are extremely well cast. Carolyn McPhee brings a natural quality to her level-headed Violet that grounds the trio of unintentionally rebellious women. Janet McWilliams ‘ Judy is less the bespectacled and clutzy nerd of the film version and here plays the part as an enthusiastic ditz, a little too eager to please, even though this is her first job in an office and she’s woefully unprepared to be anywhere near a typewriter, or a Xerox machine. Then there’s Erica Wilpon who plays the colorful country gal from Tennessee, the Backwoods Barbie of the office. Her character may be called Doralee, but Erica is really playing Dolly Parton in an NYC setting. Dolly may not actually be in the show, but because of Erica’s down home portrayal with that likable, warm hearted approach she brings to the role, the country singer’s presence is felt throughout.
The songs are more pop based than Broadway. With the exception of the title song, it’s doubtful you’ll leave the theatre remembering any of them, but they serve the scene. Both Carolyn and Erica sing well and elevate the blandness of some of the numbers to a higher level, but it’s Janet’s rendition of Get Out and Stay Out that stands out. When her character’s husband – appropriately called Dick – crawls back to her having been spurned by his girlfriend, Judy rebuffs and really sells the song. For a moment, Judy’s character relinquishes her broad, comical characteristics and suddenly becomes a woman of real flesh and blood. When she sings of taking back her life, she really means it.
The set design evoking the look of times past is fun to watch as colorful squares slide into place like building blocks of a do-it-yourself office, though the rusty browns, yellows, oranges and greens appear more mid-sixties than late seventies. However, the transitions are continually smooth, moving from scene to scene with the efficiency and speed of a movie edit, keeping the action going, never allowing the moment to lag. It propels the plot so well with its rhythm of forward motion that at times you actually forget 9 to 5 is a musical until the next song starts.
Once again, ABT delivers a thoroughly entertaining night out of dinner and professional theatre, and while 9 to 5 will never rank as one of the great musicals – its Broadway run was surprisingly short – any show that ends with a female character writing a best selling book called Life Without Dick is going to make you howl.
For more information regarding times, dates and tickets, CLICK HERE to go directly to the Arizona Broadway Theatre website