Working 9 to 5 may be “no way to make a living,” but watching office gals Judy, Violet, and Doralee triumph over their sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot of a boss makes for one very entertaining evening or afternoon at the theater, particularly when 3-D Theatricals is offering Dolly Parton’s 9 To 5 as their 2013 season opener.
You’ve probably seen the movie, the 1980 smash starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton as a secretarial trio whose “accidental” kidnapping of their misogynistic boss gives them the power to remake the company they’ve toiled for without reward—and remake their lives in the bargain.
Book writer Patricia Resnick wisely sticks closely to the movie’s plot, while Dolly Parton herself serves as songwriter for the musical adaptation of the film that made her a movie star, the result being a bright and bouncy journey back in time to a not-so-long-ago era when there was no such thing as an “office manager,” and a male boss (they were all male back then, or so it seemed) could call his female employees “girls” and get away with it.
You might call 3-D’s West Coast Premiere “9 To 5 3.0,” since following its 2009 Broadway run, the 2010 National Tour opted for brand new direction, choreography, and sets, and now 3-D does the same, the über-talented duo of T.J. Dawson directing and Linda Love Simmons choreographing from scratch, and Robert A. Kovach’s scenic design and Shannon Smith’s costumes giving the production a brand new look as well.
To bring Judy, Violet, and Doralee to life on Fullerton’s Plummer Auditorium stage (and later at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center), director Dawson has recruited two of L.A.’s busiest and best musical theater leading ladies and a terrific newbie to our local stage scene.
Cynthia Ferrer, perhaps best known as Happy Days’ Marion Cunningham, brings her own distinctive style to sharp-tongued Violet, and though Vi’s songs (written for non-singer Allison Janney) aren’t the most vocally challenging, Ferrer makes them sound fabulous. Later,when backed by a stageful of sexy young men, Ferrer gets to kick up her dancing heels in the big Act Two production number “One Of The Boys” to deserved cheers.
The ever-so-versatile Beth Malone hides her fierce and feisty Betty Lou side underneath Judy’s meek-and-mild exterior, that is until the housewife-turned-office worker morphs from mouse to lion in “Get Out And Stay Out,” 9 To 5’s answer to Wicked’s “Defying Gravity,” an eleventh-hour showstopper that earns Malone the production’s biggest applause.
Newcomer Ruby Lewis couldn’t be more country-glam sexy and delightful as curvaceous Dolly Parton stand-in Doralee, showing off razor-sharp comedic chops and a close-your-eyes-you-thing-it’s-Dolly belt of a voice in C & W songs like “Backwoods Barbie” and “Cowgirl’s Revenge.”
Last but not least, how about these very busy SoCal performers in ensemble tracks and cameos: David Kirk Grant doing his best scumbag as Judy’s ex-husband Dick; The Wedding Singer himself Ciarán McCarthy as Doralee’s devoted (and shirtless) hubby Dwayne; Justin Michael Wilcox radiating younger-man sex appeal as Violet’s besotted suitor Joe; Michael Cavinder channeling Colonel Sanders as Consolidated CEO Mr. Tinsworthy; Lisa Dyson properly hoity-toity as Hart’s long-suffering wife Missy and office worker Anita; and Amy Glinskas as office lush Margaret, Alyssa Kennedy as Latin Lovely Maria, and Jon M. Wailin as Violet’s cute, bushy-haired son Josh; and Steven Arlen, Tim Brown, Venny Carranza, Jeanette Dawson (Kathy), Kaitlyn Etter, assistant choreographer/dance captain Joe Komara, Robert Laos, Arthur L. Ross (Bob Enright), Amber J. Snead (Daphne), Daniel Switzer, Katy Tabb, Kim Taylor, and Stephanie Wolfe.
And while we’re on the subject, there’s no harder working ensemble in town than these 9-to-5ers, choreographer Simmons putting each and every one of them through a nonstop two-act dance workout with inventive, energetic choreography that not only turns production numbers into show-stopper after show-stopper but serves to link each of the musical’s multiple scene changes. Add to that one costume and wig change after another and you’ve got an ensemble with little or no time for dressing room R & R.
Not only do these powerhouse talents dance up a storm, they sing some of the most gorgeous (and difficult) harmonies in town thanks to Stephen Oremus’s instantly recognizable vocal arrangements and music director extraordinaire Allen Everman, who also conducts the Broadway caliber pit orchestra at each performance.
I loved costume designer Smith’s early-‘80s outfits and Kovach’s terrific sets, a tremendous improvement over the National Tour redesign and one which restores the original concept of animated projections, thereby adding plenty of pizzazz to the production in addition to making Act One’s trio of dream sequence production numbers (“The Dance Of Death,” “Cowgirl’s Revenge,” and “Potion Notion”) work considerably better than they did on tour.
Lighting designer Jean-Yves Tessier makes sets, costumes, and Cliff & Kat Senior’s excellent period wigs look even better, while John Feinstein’s sound design and the much improved Plummer Auditorium sound system make vocal and instruments performances sound even more fantastic.
Also contributing to the production are Yolanda Rowell (costume coordinator/additional costume design) and Terry Hanarahan (prop coordinator/additional props design). Orchestrations are by Bruce Coghlin and musicians provided by Los Angeles Musicians Collective. Nicole Wessel is production stage manager, Donna R. Parsons assistant stage manager, and Jene Roach technical director. Matthew Benedict and Lina Alfinito are assistant directors.
Since it closed after a mere 172 previews and performances, 9 To 5 ended up hardly the Broadway smash its producers were hoping for. Still, if 3-D’s thoroughly entertaining production is any indication, Dolly Parton’s musical theater writing debut is likely to be a regional theater favorite for years to come.
Just tell’em Dolly sent you!
Plummer Auditorium, 210 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton.
February 17, 2013
Photos: Isaac James Creative