Photo credit: The Cast of 9 to 5
Book by Patricia Resnick, Music & Lyrics by Dolly Parton
Bad bosses – we have all had them. The 1980 movie 9 to 5 revolved around Mr. Hart, one of the most “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigots” to ever rule the roost. It was lines like that earned the movie cult status. Well, that and the outstanding performances of the three female protagonists, Violet (Lily Tomlin), Doralee (Dolly Parton) and Judy (Jane Fonda), who accurately portrayed iconic stereotypes of working women in the 80’s. Being a child of a single mother in the ‘80s, this movie helped shape my support of the women’s lib movement.
Stages St. Louis brings the musical version of the iconic movie to the Robert G. Reim Theatre. Making its’ Stages debut, the musical (with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton herself) keeps the broad strokes of the movie intact as well as adding some new twists to keep the plot fresh. That said, while some plot points fizzled, others took on a life of their own.
Violet (Corinne Melançon), Doralee (Summerisa Bell Stevens), and Judy (Laura E. Taylor) are still three women trying to work their way up the corporate ladder while Mr. Hart (Joe Cassidy) still takes all the credit for their hard work. Violet mixing up the Skinny & Sweet for rat poison is still a highlight of the show as are scenes in which Mr. Hart ogles Doralee and Judy’s mishap with the copier.
Roz (Kari Ely) is still spying on the office for Mr. Hart, but a new twist is when she professes her profound love for him in “5 to 9.” Another new plot line is Joe (Jason Michael Evans) who serves as an office romance for Violet. All the madcap shenanigans surrounding the supposed poisoning of Mr. Hart—including the garage door opener harness—are kept intact. Well, there is one small tweak: rather than his chair malfunctioning, causing him to throw the coffee on the ground, he actually drinks the tainted java. Why Patricia Resnick added this point to the musical is a bit confusing especially when they kept the malfunctioning chair in the script.
The fantasy scenes regarding how each of our heroines would off their boss followed the movie, with another small twist. While Judy and the office crew hunt Mr. Hart down, she suddenly turns the scene into a seductive one as she performs the torch song, “The Dance of Death.”
Where the love story with Joe and Violet seemed to never solidify, the campy “5 to 9” number performed by Roz brought down the house. This incarnation of Mr. Hart was not so much the “boss you love to hate” but rather the boss you would love to report for sexual harassment. Perhaps it is just the fact that we are three decades of sensitivity from the original movie, but when Mr. Hart smelled Doralee’s pencils it gave off the vibe of a creeper. Understanding Resnick had to make adjustments to the plot to keep things moving (and for the addition of a complete musical score), she might have been better off fully realizing the original plot points rather than adding in superfluous relationships.
Melançon captured the confidence and the searing wit of Violet. Her gorgeous vocals and commanding stage performance served her well as she shined in both the ensemble numbers as well as her spotlight performance in “One of the Boys.” Having been impressed with Melançon during last year’s productions of The Drowsy Chaperone and Sister Act, it was great to see her showcase another aspect of her acting arsenal.
Laura E. Taylor was equally successful in her portrayal of Judy. Her wide-eyed naiveté mixed with her brilliant physical comedy made her performance shimmy and shine. Reuniting with Melançon (her cast mate from The Drowsy Chaperone), Taylor also worked extremely well in ensemble numbers. That said, when she performed “Get Out and Stay Out,” she captivated the audience with her larger-than-life vocals.
Then we get to Summerisa Bell Stevens as Doralee. Making her Stages debut, this talented actress filled the auditorium with her enchanting personality and her energizing vocals. While paying homage to the role made popular by Parton, Stevens gave her performance her own sense of charm as she impressed a very savvy St. Louis crowd. While she shined in numbers such as “Backwoods Barbie,” Shine Like the Sun,” and “Change It,” it was when she did a double back flip with a twist—in heels!—during “Cowgirl’s Revenge” which sealed the deal.
St. Louis’ own Kari Ely gave all three of these talented actresses a run for their money in her hilarious performance of “5 to 9.” Having seen Ely in a multitude of dramatic roles, it was inspiring to see her cut loose and prove that not only can she do drama, she can do camp. Despite causing me to blush, this may be one of my favorite performances from this multifaceted actress.
Director Michael Hamilton and his talented cast once again earned high marks for a fully realized production. Dana Lewis’ choreography sizzled in each movement with a special nod to the large ensemble numbers. James Wolk once again demonstrated his eye to detail with his clever set design. It’s no small feat to take on the music of one of America’s most beloved singers but Lisa Campbell Albert did it with grace and poise.
While the plot of 9 to 5 may have a few coffee stains, the outstanding performances by this astonishing cast and crew make me give them “Exceeds Expectations” on their review. Now if only we could convince Netflix to cast Parton in a guest role on Grace and Frankie, my 9 to 5 reunion fantasy would be complete. | Jim Ryan