9 to 5: The Musical, at Pentacle Theatre, directed by Robert Salberg, takes the audience on a vocally smooth, but technically bumpy ride.
The play, which premiered in 2009, is the musical adaptation of the 1980 movie starring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda. As you may remember, a trio of professional women (Violet, Doralee, and Judy) are plagued by their boss—an arch sexist, good ol’ boy, and all around jerk. The women team together to overthrow the boss and turn the business into a workplace utopia with flexible hours and in-office day care—ideas truly fantastic at the time.
This is essentially a play about workplace harassment. “Thank goodness for that mandatory training,” one thinks, leaving the theatre. However, the themes are timely. The problems of gender equality, the wage gap, and glass ceilings have not gone away. If anything, these issues are more pressing now than ever, and the play tackles these issues head on, albeit in an overtly comedic manner. This is a refreshingly feminist piece for Pentacle, sandwiched as it is between three shows with all-male or nearly all-male casts.
For performances, the trio of Kelli Jaecks (Violet), Geri Sanders (Doralee), and Heather Toller (Judy) are on point and on pitch. Jaecks and Toller put out especially strong vocals in the second act. Sanders has the greater challenge in the Dolly Parton role, whose voice and mannerisms are so iconic. Ed Schoaps is delightfully chauvinistic as the boss, Franklin Hart. Like any good villain, he leans into the role of this lying, egotistical bigot. The stand-out performance goes to Kara Quello as the office flunky Roz, who actually gets the best numbers.
The technical elements of the show are somewhat uneven. The costumes, designed by MaryAnn Potter, provide a delightful romp through late-70s fashion (I love the plaid jacket), and there are plenty of quick changes to keep the visuals interesting. The multi-level set design by Tony Zandol is interesting and efficient. The office scenes play well, but the second story feels cramped. Choreography, also by Geri Sanders, is lively, but I’ve seen sharper footwork at Pentacle. In fact, on the night I went, there was some bumping into each other among the chorus, and some couldn’t find their light. The edges all round were all a little rough.
Surprisingly, despite music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, 9 to 5 is not the strongest musical. Aside from the title number, no songs really get the feet moving or stick in the head. The ending is also a deus ex machina that steals the agency from these women right at the moment when they should be most assertive. However, the audience clearly enjoyed it. For many, this is a strong nostalgia piece, as much as it is topical commentary or an evening’s comedy. 9 to 5 runs through September 10.
SW THEATRE PICK
The Guys, by Anne Nelson, at Keizer Homegrown Theatre September 8–17
Directed by Linda Baker. and showing at the Kroc Center. A hard-hitting piece about the firefighters who gave all on 9/11. Opening on the 15th anniversary of the world-changing terrorist attacks, The Guys promises to make you think, feel, and remember. Keizer has excelled at serious work this past year; this one should be a gut punch.