Have you ever been in an office meeting where you realize that every person on your team is incredibly smart, talented, and full of good ideas, but for some reason those good ideas never really come together? Welcome to 9 to 5. Despite the abundant talents of the cast and crew, the strong source material, and a fun, frothy score, 9 to 5 could use some job coaching before it earns a promotion.
The show, based off of the hit 1980 film, focuses on three secretaries and their attempt to cut their sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot of a boss down to size. With a book by Patricia Resnick, the film’s co-screenwriter, and a score by the film’s star, Dolly Parton, 9 to 5 is full of exuberant characters and clever one-liners.
Sadly, much of the fun and cleverness of the material doesn’t come alive in this production. Perhaps due to the number of lighting and sound issues in the performance I viewed, the ensemble seemed a bit tentative and cautious, like a group of mediocre employees at performance review time, and they never look like they’re enjoying what they’re doing on stage. Director Rick Sanchez’s choice of utilizing an anachronistic pre-show mix of John Mayer slow jams is also a problem. Putting the audience to sleep with a 30 minute pre-show of lullabies is more fitting for a quiet, slow musical like Once and not a high energy, happy-go-lucky one like 9 to 5. A pre-show mix of Dolly Parton hits or a mix of work related songs (“She Works Hard for the Money,” “Working for the Weekend”) would be far more appropriate and would get the crowd pumped up for a feel-good comedy. The lethargic pre-show is followed by the show’s listless pacing. The first act feels a bit long, the tempo of many songs feels sluggish, and the show never reaches the meteoric heights of other zany screwball comedies. Whatever the case, the laughs the show manages to get are more chuckles and less guffaws.
Still, there are plenty of elements that redeem this show. The late 70s/early 80s costumes designed by Woodlawn’s Artistic Director, Greg Hinojosa, are deliciously kitschy and dated. Kurt Wehner, who serves as the show’s Scenic Designer and as the a-hole boss, Franklin Hart, proves to have substantial talent. His set is very simple but effective as it swirls and swivels through many a scene change. As Hart, Wehner is wonderfully sleazy and slimy. The trio of heroines is quite good as well. Sarah Brookes plays buxom “Double D” Doralee (the Dolly Parton role) as a grounded, confident, wiser-than-she-looks woman, and she also has one of the strongest voices in the show. Mary Morrow is consistently adorable and endearing as Judy Bernly, the mousey, backbone-less divorcee, and her Act Two solo, “Get Out and Stay Out” is a triumphant highlight. And as Violet Newstead, the office warhorse and leader of the trio, Melissa Gonzalez is perfectly cynical and sarcastic. But the biggest stand-outs in the cast are two of the supporting players. Allison Newsom is hysterical as Margaret, the office drunk, and Kevin Murray is a silly delight as Roz Keith, Mr. Hart’s lovesick personal assistant. He gets plenty of laughs, and not just because of his ridiculously over-exaggerated drag. Sanchez’s decision to cast a male as the show’s secondary villain is a bold but intelligent choice. By doing so, the show becomes a true battle of the sexes.
Despite the trifecta of a strong book, score, and performances, 9 to 5 could use a coffee break to boost the energy. A show involving three women who hold their boss hostage in his own home should be an over-the-top slapstick fest, but somehow this production falls short. Still, with a bit of fine-tuning and faster pacing, this show could be a major success.