Wright State Theatre works Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5: The Musical

By Tim Smith

Photo: Bailey Edmonds as Violet in 9 to 5, at Wright State through April 2; photos: Erin Pence

Have you ever had one of those days when your thoughts were filled with nasty things you’d like to do to your boss? Have you ever found yourself tempted to tell the head honcho where to shove the job? If the answer is yes, then the Wright State University Theatre production of 9 to 5: The Musical is just what you need.

This stage play is based on the 1980 movie of the same name, with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton. The original film co-starred Parton with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dabney Coleman. The book is by Patricia Resnick and is based on the screenplay by Resnick and Colin Higgins.

The musical premiered in Los Angeles in September 2008, and opened on Broadway in April 2009. It received 15 Drama Desk Award nominations, the most received by a production in a single year, as well as four Tony Award nominations. In spite of the accolades, the Broadway production closed in September 2009. Since then, it has toured extensively and become a staple of community theatre.

The story, set in 1979, focuses on three women—Violet Newstead, Doralee Rhodes, and Judy Bernly—who work as secretaries in a large corporation under the boss from hell, Franklin Hart, Jr. One gender-biased injustice piles on top of another, until one day, the three of them take steps to get even. Put yourself in their place and daydream about the possibilities.

The decision to include 9 to 5 as part of Wright State University’s 42nd theatre season was an easy one, according to director Greg Hellems.

“It is a contemporary title, in a style of music that is accessible to both audience and students,” Hellems says. “It meets our educational needs in terms of casting, where women are not often featured in dramatic material, as they certainly are here, and in terms of style, which is that the show’s writing reflects its cinematic origins.”

He admits that there were some challenges to overcome in mounting a Broadway play as a college theatre production.

“As a program that is geared towards turning out working professionals, our goal is always to raise the bar in terms of production so that we are emulating industry standards,” he says. “That being said, we are limited in terms of budget, which is nowhere near what would be spent on a Broadway production. The challenge here is how to tell the story economically without losing production impact. Casting, as in any educational theatre, means that college students play roles that are often much older than their actual age. That would never happen on Broadway.”

Hellems noted that part of the initial appeal was the parallel the story has to the contemporary workplace.

“It’s a great story, which features women in the leading roles, has title recognition by the audience, and its story and themes have become very relevant,” he says. “While some elements do look like the ’70s, the story is much more indicative of changes that were happening in the U.S. in the early ’80s. The fact that one of the main themes in 9 to 5 is the sexual harassment of women certainly makes it relevant to a contemporary audience. The additional fact that journalists continue to uncover workplace inequality for women makes it all the more topical.”

This production benefits from a talented ensemble cast of singers and dancers. The cast delivers their lines with great comic timing and style. The three lead players—Bailey Edmonds as Violet, Natalie Girard as Doralee, and Meredith Zahn as Judy—play well off of each other and project the required sense of camaraderie. Each performer convincingly portrays the frustrations that her character faces, but I must admit that Girard expertly channels Dolly Parton in speech and mannerisms. Joey Logan as Hart embodies the boss you love to hate, especially when he spouts cringe-worthy, sexist remarks. A special nod goes to Emily Chodan as Roz, the requisite office busybody/snitch.

The music runs the gamut, from country ballads to blues, and the cast is up to the challenge. In addition to the familiar title tune, the songs include “Backwoods Barbie,” “Shine Like the Sun,” “Let Love Grow,” and “I Just Might.” Of note is Zahn’s second-act showstopper, “Get Out and Stay Out.” It perfectly empowers her character as she sings it to the ex-husband who dropped her for a younger woman. Edmonds also knocks it out of the park with a sassy production number, “One of the Boys.”

The choreography by Megan Wean Sears evokes some of the classic production numbers created by Bob Fosse. The set designs of Michael S. Brewer and the costumes by Emily Sollinger perfectly capture the period of the late 1970s. Music director Scot Woolley and the small pit band handle the multi-faceted score with ease, while director Hellems and stage manager Christany A. Wiesemann keep the on-stage action moving at a smooth pace.

From the overture to the final curtain, 9 to 5 is a delight. Office politics and manners haven’t been harpooned this well since How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. As Dolly Parton herself says in a video intro, take yourself back to a time when apples and blackberries were things you picked behind the barn.

Wright State University presents 9 to 5: The Musical at Festival Playhouse, 3640 Colonel Glenn Highway in Fairborn. Performances are Wednesday, March 22, at 7 p.m., Thursdays, March 23 and 30 at 7 p.m.; Fridays, March 24 and 31, at 8 p.m.; and Saturdays, March 25 and April 1, at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sundays, Mar 26 and April 2 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $22 for adults, and $20 for students and seniors. For tickets or more information, please call 937.775.2500 or visit Wright.edu/Theatre. 


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Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at TimSmith@DaytonCityPaper.com

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