Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Like many musicals that have graced Broadway over the past decade, 9 To 5 is based on a well-known film. The built-in name recognition of the title, along with the involvement of original star Dolly Parton as composer, make this an easy sell for audiences. La Comedia Dinner Theatre in Springboro, Ohio, hopes to capitalize on these factors, and is currently presenting a solid mounting of a show that is not without significant weaknesses to go along with its better qualities.
Like the big screen version, this musical follows the antics of three 1970s female office workers who kidnap their egotistical, sexist boss when he attempts to blackmail them for accidentally trying to kill him. While he's away, the trio improves the office and individually find freedom, self-confidence, and fun. The book is by Patricia Resnick, who co-wrote the screenplay for the film. There is much humor, social commentary on women's liberation and political correctness, and heart. Much of the humor is slapstick visual gags or one-liners based on now dated, nostalgic references, some of which are better than others. Some of what worked on screen, such as the fantasy scenes when the three friends are high on pot, appear clumsy or episodic on stage.
The score for the show by Ms. Parton is likewise uneven in its effectiveness. The opening title song is a great introduction to the main characters, the office environment, and '70s setting and is instantly catchy and recognizable. Several other songs likewise contain Ms. Parton's trademark tunefulness and register very well on stage, such as "Here for You" (a raunchily funny song for the cruel boss Mr. Hart), "Let Love Grow," and the powerhouse "Get Out and Stay Out." On the other hand, many of the songs sound generic or are instantly forgettable, and the lyrics often don't adhere to the musical theater standard of true rhymes. A song like "Heart to Hart" is hilarious in its content and musically interesting, but the presence of so many false rhymes is distracting and disappointing.
The cast for La Comedia's 9 To 5 is solid all around. Mandy Striph is too young to be Violet, but she's a strong singer and dancer, and captures the character's drive, frustration, and guardedness in regard to love. As Judy, Shannon Remley accurately captures the uptightness of the newbie to the workforce and provides a believable emotional arc, and she delivers vocally, especially with "Get Out and Stay Out." Leanne Smith sings the country-flavored tunes of Doralee (modeled after Dolly) satisfactorily and supplies the necessary spunk and heart for the role of the put upon secretary. The best performance comes from Michael Karraker as Mr. Hart, however. Mr. Karraker brings out every bit of humor from his role through his appropriately over-the-top physical antics, facial expressions, and devilish delivery of the comedic lines. Also, behind the humor, there's a great singing voice as well. Tauren Hagans doesn't come across as the best singer as Roz, but she's riotously funny as she pines for Mr. Hart. John Wilkening shows off a first-rate singing voice as Joe. The entire eighteen person cast does well in executing the staging and dances of the piece.
Director/Choreographer Chris Beiser provides dances which are vibrant, visually pleasing, and well-integrated into the storytelling. Mr. Beiser's direction captures the right tone for each moment, and contains suitable blocking, pace, and transitions. He also inventively uses video of Ms. Parton introducing and wrapping up the story as bookends to the show to great effect.
There are numerous sets needed to capture the many locales of the story, and Jason Haislet provides handsome and multi-dimensional pieces. The costumes by A.T. Jones are apt and convey the late 1970s accurately. Geoffrey D. Fishburn's first-rate lighting includes several nice effects, including some "heart-inspired" ones and one showing the light coming into an office through blinds.
9 To 5 is a humorous, harmless, and nostalgic crowd-pleaser, but one which, if looked at with a more discerning eye, isn't without its shortcomings. Despite this, La Comedia's production is a satisfying and entertaining one, thanks to a strong cast and worthwhile choreography and direction. 9 To 5 continues through April 28, 2013. Tickets can be purchased by calling 1-800-677-9505 or visiting www.lacomedia.com.-- Scott Cain