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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

9 to 5
Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of The Diary of Anne Frank, Black Pearl Sings, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Seussical, Play It Again, Sam, Smokey Joe's Cafe, and The All Night Strut


Skylar Ryan, Brandi Bigley, and Harley Barton
Photo by Heather Butcher / Desert Stages Theatre
The musical 9 to 5, which is based on the 1980 film comedy, is a quirky comic gem that follows three underpaid and underappreciated working women who get revenge on their "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" of a boss. Scottsdale Desert Stages production, while a bit bare bones, features talented leads and spirited direction that instill plenty of heart within the humorous show.

The three women include talented senior office supervisor Violet, who is continually passed over for management promotions with the jobs going to less qualified men; Doralee, boss Franklin Hart's secretary, who is often only seen for her good looks and not her abilities; and newly divorced Judy, who has just reentered the working world. The trio come together to fantasize about getting even with and eventually overthrowing Hart and, through a series of comical situations, discover a newfound sense of confidence and empowerment.

The film was released at a time when many women had entered the workplace and were feeling the same way that Violet, Judy, and Doralee do in the film, so it hit a nerve and became a huge hit. The musical follows the plot of the film fairly closely while also touching upon topics that are relevant in today's workplace: equal pay concerns, work/life balance issues, and the need for various other employee benefit programs. Dolly Parton, who starred in the film, also wrote and sang the infectious Oscar-nominated title song and has written the score for the musical which includes big belting ballads and fun comical songs as well as several numbers that effectively move the plot along. The book is by Patricia Resnick, who co-wrote the screenplay. The themes in the musical still resonate today, and the fun in seeing how these women get revenge on their boss along with some peppy tunes by Parton turn the musical into an endearing show.

Director/choreographer Cambrian James provides a fast pace and fun movement, and has found a cast that deliver with ease just about every comic bit as well as the several uplifting moments in Resnick's book. James doesn't let the "in the round" theatre get in the way of the many scene changes and, with everything on wheels and a well-orchestrated cast, it all flows swiftly. While the set design is minimal, Aurelie Flores' costumes and James' wig designs bring back the horrifying looks of the '80s with big hair and loud prints adding to the humor of the show.

The three leads all create believable three-dimensional characters. Brandi Bigley, Harley Barton, and Skylar Ryan as Violet, Judy, and Doralee are all excellent and never once try to mimic the mannerisms or accents of their three film counterparts, Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dolly Parton. Bigley played Violet two years ago at Hale Centre Theatre, also under James' direction, and is just as good here as she was in that production. She interjects a realistic sense of frustration under Violet's professional demeanor that comes with the territory of being passed over for promotions, because she is a woman, when she knows she can do a better job than the man who got promoted. Bigley also adds plenty of zaniness and a big dose of fun to the part, with good comic timing, especially when Violet believes she's poisoned her boss. Her two co-stars are equally impressive. Barton blossoms as Judy, the recently divorced woman who has gone back to work and often finds herself crying but then finds her footing, and eventually herself, over the course of the show. Barton has a big, booming voice that does justice to the soaring ballads Judy sings. Her rendition of "Get Out and Stay Out" is a crowd pleaser. Ryan is extremely likable and feisty as Doralee but also has plenty of charm and really makes you care for her, especially when, at first, the other women in the office look down on her because they think she is sleeping with her boss. Ryan also has a strong voice and her solo, "Backwoods Barbie," is touching. The fact that Barton is just 17 and Ryan is in her early 20s and are both delivering such well-rounded performances is exceptional.

Michael Paul does a good job in making Hart into your typical old fashioned businessman who believes that every woman in the office, or "girl" as he calls them, is there for his personal use. While it is a slightly two-dimensional part, Paul manages to bring a lot of fun to it. As Roz, the co-worker who has a hidden love for Hart, Lizzie Baggleman does well in projecting the character's secret desires, and her powerful voice and a dose of comedy make her solo "Heart to Hart" soar. As Violet's much younger co-worker Joe, who is interested in having a relationship with Violet, Rob Dominguez is endearing, always with a big smile on his face when he's around Violet and a huge amount of charm. He and Bigley also get a sweet duet, "Let Love Grow," that they both delivery beautifully. Also, in a small role, Sydney Davis is a hoot as Margaret, the office lush.

9 to 5 is a fun, funny, fast-paced musical with characters you can root for. With talented leads, and James' always professional directorial and choreographic touches, DST's production is energetic and wacky but also full of charm.

The Scottsdale Desert Stages production of 9 to 5 runs through May 8th, 2016, with performances at 4720 N. Scottsdale Road in Scottsdale. Tickets are available at www.DesertStages.org or by phone at 480-483-1664.

Director/Choreographer: Cambrian James
Music Director: Elizabeth Spencer
Assistant Director: Kelly Crews
Set Design: Cambrian James, Matt Stetler, Rick Sandifer
Costume Designer: Aurelie Flores
Props: Kate Crawford, Leah Miller
Lighting Designer: Matt Stetler
Sound Designer: Dana Butcher

Cast:
Brandi Bigley: Violet Newstead
Harley Barton: Judy Bernly
Skylar Ryan: Doralee Rhodes
Michael Paul: Franklin Hart
Lizzie Baggleman: Roz Keith
Rob Dominguez: Joe
Dillon Butler: Dwayne/Cop/Ensemble
Austin Butler: Josh/Ensemble
Nora Cole: Maria/Ensemble
Randy Rice: Dick/Doctor/Ensemble
Savannah Alfred: Kathy/Ensemble
Sydney Davis: Margaret/Ensemble
Dani Topel: Orderly/Ensemble
Sophie Loeb: Intern/Ensemble
Vanessa Benjamin: Missy Hart/Candy Stripper/Ensemble
Ashley Rhoads: Nurse/New Employee/Ensemble
Zack Pepe: Bob Enright/Ensemble
Aaron Ford: Ichabod/Ensemble
Jeremy Cruz: Otto/Ensemble
Todd Corbeil: Tinsworthy/Detective/Ensemble


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