The current Stockton Civic Theatre production of “9 to 5: The Musical” got off to an impressive start at the very end of August and early September with a delightful staging of the musical comedy that first beguiled audiences as a 1980 film starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton.
43 years later, three of SCT’s own leading ladies have taken on the demanding roles of overworked and underpaid office workers vowing to build a better life for themselves and their office mates. To do so, they have to find a way to rid themselves of the lecherous, perfidious and unscrupulous boss whose abuses are giving the ladies a motive to take justice into their hands. Talk about a timeless plot.
The sellout audience with whom I sat reacted to the musical version of “9 to 5” with enthusiasm for its energy, creativity, and the give-it-all-you-got efforts of its performers. There was no doubt in our minds that this was a winner from the start, destined for continuous popularity during its run. A short time later, however, illness struck members of the cast and crew, forcing the theatre to cancel several performances. The cancellation disappointed not only those who had yet to see the show, but those of us who already had.
Fortunately, the cancellation was resolved in short order and the production is now entering a final week of performances, giving playgoers an opportunity to see the 2008 play that evolved from the film. The stage version premiered with Parton’s music and lyrics giving the book by Patricia Resnick a new format and a new generation of fans.
Once again, office manager Violet Newstead (Melissa Esau), secretarial pool newcomer Judy Bernly (Sara St. Pierre) and Dolly Parton lookalike and soundalike Doralee Rhodes (Sierra Fraser) are back in business, ready to take their wicked boss to task. By doing so, can they improve life in their office and end the plight of its downtrodden females? On the other hand, can they manage to give the heartless Franklin Hart (Joseph Smith) the punishment he richly deserves without putting themselves at legal risk?
The play comes to life with acting, singing and dancing so finely timed that one wonders how many hours of rehearsal, rehearsal, and rehearsal were required to make it cohere as well as it does. Director Dennis Beasley, music director Jonathan Latta, choreographer Karissa Kiriu and stage manager Elizabeth Smith obviously had anything but an easy task on their hands, but the result of their collaboration is stylishly entertaining, full of verve and wit. It offers local theatregoers a look back at the past, at conditions that prompted the film and prompts present-day reflection on the question of how far women have advanced in the workplace.
The pleasures here include wow-inducing dance numbers, a hilarious tour of a paper-ridden, pre-computer office (“Around Here”), and three consecutive fantasy sequences (“Dance of Death,” “Cowgirl’s Revenge,” and “Potion Notion”) that entertain possible methods for ending the career of the infamous Mr, Hart, a character so repellant that he’s as comical as he is sinister.
There’s even an unexpected appearance (via prerecorded video) of Dolly Parton herself, with a word to her fans. If you aren’t one already, seeing the show may induce you to change your mind.
By intermission, with the fate of their boss hanging in the air, Violet, Judy and Doralee seem poised to claim a share of office entitlement by turning the workplace into a safe, friendly and prosperous endeavor for all. Some of the audience wished them luck at halftime by toasting them with a “Dolly spritzer” or “5 to 9” at the theatre refreshment stand, and then hastening back to their seats in time for the rousing second act opening chorus of “One of the Boys.”
A period piece that evokes a sense of its era and a link to our own, it’s a pleasure to welcome “9 to 5” to the local stage. My audience did so at the end with a standing ovation and shouts of gratitude. I added a “Well done, Dolly!” to the Nashville belle who made it all possible.
Bravo, Stockton Civic Theatre! You rocked the clock this time.
A retired reporter and editor, Stockton resident Howard Lachtman has written Delta-centered detective stories, Stockton Civic Theatre reviews and a variety of baseball tales for Soundings. In 2006. he was honored by the Stockton Arts Commission for “24 years of superior review and commentary on the performing and literary arts in Stockton.”