Regional Reviews: Phoenix
9 to 5
9 to 5 focuses on three women and their struggles with their company's "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" of a boss, Franklin Hart. Violet is a no-nonsense, talented senior office supervisor who is continually passed over for management promotions, with the jobs going to less qualified men. Hart's secretary Doralee is often only seen for her good looks and not her abilities, while the newly divorced Judy finds herself unsure of herself and struggling as someone who has just reentered the working world. The three women bond over their unfair treatment, and through a series of comical events they come together to discover a new sense of confidence and empowerment while also finding a way to get even with Hart.
The film was released at a time when many women had entered the workplace and it resonated in how businesswomen were feeling oppressed, underpaid, and unappreciated for their contributions in 1980s male-dominated corporate America. It was also a smartly written movie (co-written by the film's director Colin Higgins and Resnick) starring Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton. Resnick and Parton reunited almost thirty years later to adapt the film for the stage.
Resnick's script is extremely faithful to the screenplay, with many of the film's famous lines and situations intact and it doesn't go unnoticed how several of the issues touched upon in the film, and the musical, such as the need for a work-life balance, concerns over equal pay, and other employee benefits are still relevant today. Parton's score is theatrical and professional, with upbeat group numbers, gorgeous ballads about empowerment, catchy hooks, smart rhymes, and several showstoppers, including the act one closer "Shine Like the Sun."
Trisha Ditsworth's smart direction keeps the pace brisk, the laughs high, and the heart of the show firmly beating. Ashley Bauer's choreography is fun, including some nice dances for the fantasy scenes and several ensemble numbers that are danced fairly well by the large cast. Kendra Schroeder's scenic design uses a number of movable pieces for the office desks and other furniture elements and, with them all on wheels, there are fairly speedy scene changes. The only downside is the absence of a way to more clearly depict how Hart is detained by the three women, as some people who've never seen the film may be slightly confused by how it's shown here. Shannon McCoy Wiest's fun costumes and several period wig and hair designs transport us back to the 1980s. While prerecorded musical tracks are used, they are very good, and Cathy Hauan's music direction delivers rich vocals from the large cast.
Ditsworth gets solid comical performances from the cast but also ensures they create fairly three-dimensional characters. Rochelle Barton is excellent as Violet. You can clearly see from Barton's clear facial expressions and body language Violet's frustration and agitation about being passed over for another promotion that she clearly deserved. When things start to spiral out of control and she believes she has accidentally poisoned Hart, Barton's comic timing is sharp and zany, which gets big laughs, but she also perfectly gets across Violet's warmth in her relationship with her son and the sparks she has for a younger co-worker.
As Judy, Leia Wasbotten is great and appropriately unsure of herself at first until she discovers she has a fire inside of her. Wasbotten's nuanced performance lets us see how Judy learns and grows from the experiences she has and how she is able to stand up for herself even if, at first, she feels she'll always be living in the shadow of her ex-husband. As Doralee, McKaylee Todd is wonderful, with a warm, country twang in her voice and a charming and sweet disposition in her line delivery, along with perfect comic timing. Barton, Wasbotten, and Todd all have bright, rich, and clear singing voices that shine, including delivering, respectively, their three great solo songs: "One of the Boys," "Get Out and Stay Out," and "Backwoods Barbie."
Jared Kitch is appropriately slimy as Hart, though he manages to play up the comical parts of the character so Hart isn't truly lecherous. Kitch appears to be having a blast playing this horrible man. As Roz, the co-worker who has a hidden love for Hart, Amanda Bagley is a crowd pleaser; her "Heart to Hart" solo, as she confides her love for Hart, brought the house down at the performance I attended. As Violet's younger co-worker Joe who is interested in having a relationship with her, Gianluca Russo is bright and charming and he and Barton's duet, "Let Love Grow," is well sung. Dawn Gunderson is a hoot as a co-worker who drinks on the job; Cael Szabados and Jayden Fahres are good as Doralee's husband and Violet's son, respectively; and Wayne Peck is good as the corporation's head. The large ensemble cast all deliver good performances.
While the musical is set in the 1980s, the themes in the story still resonate today, and the fun in seeing how these women get revenge on their boss along with some upbeat and well-structured tunes by Parton turn the musical into an endearing show with a lot of heart. With a great cast, fun direction and choreography, MET's production is charming, warm, and a whole lot of fun.
9 to 5 runs through June 4, 2023, at Mesa Encore Theatre, Mesa Arts Center, 1 East Main Street, Mesa AZ. For tickets and information, please call 480-644-6500 or at visit mesaencoretheatre.com.
Director: Trisha Ditsworth