Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

9 to 5
Hale Centre Theatre

Also see Gil's reviews of Around the World in 80 Days and Into the Woods

Chelsea Janzen, Brandi Bigley and
Emily Giauque Evans

The hilarious 1980 movie 9 to 5 was released at a time when many women had entered the workplace and were feeling oppressed, underpaid and unappreciated for their contributions to the business world. Seeing the film's three leads, Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton, portray three working women who get revenge on their sexist boss hit a nerve across the U.S. and the film became a huge hit. Parton's infectious title song from the film was so successful that it not only went to number one on the Billboard charts but was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song. The screenplay was co-written by Patricia Resnick and the film's director Colin Higgins, and Resnick and Parton reunited almost thirty years later to turn the film into a musical comedy for the stage. While the musical had a relatively short (six month) Broadway run, its themes still resonate today, and the fun in seeing how these women get revenge on their boss along with some peppy tunes by Parton make it an endearing show. The production currently being presented by the Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert has a perfect cast, inspired direction, and manages to wring just about every comic nuance and uplifting moment from Resnick's script and Parton's score.

9 to 5 tells the story of three women in 1980s male-dominated corporate America and the struggles they suffer in dealing with their company's "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" of a boss, Franklin Hart. 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, 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 three women come together to fantasize about getting even with and eventually overthrowing Hart and, through a series of comical situations, discover a new-found sense of confidence and empowerment.

A fairly faithful "by the book" retelling of the film, Resnick's script adds very little new extraneous moments to the actions of the screenplay, but that is fine since the movie already included many funny lines and hilarious scenes with appropriate character development and a perfect ending. The musical also touches upon equal pay concerns, work/life balance issues, and the need for various other employee benefit programs that are still relevant in today's workplace. Parton's score is varied, melodic and energetic with numerous showstoppers including the act one closer "Shine Like the Sun," character specific solos for the three leads that include the soaring power ballad "Get Out and Stay Out" for Judy, and a nicely reworked version of the title song that opens the show and introduces all of the characters. While not all of Parton's songs succeed, more of them are good than not and the songs that aren't as good are short, so they are over before you really notice how average they are.

The show is mainly a series of short scenes and director/choreographer Cambrian James succeeds in providing a swift pace for the proceedings along with some fun choreography. As this is an "in the round" production with no large set pieces, James' ability to simply use a few desks, a couch, and a very large Xerox machine to quickly establish the location of each scene is commendable. With everything on wheels, the movement of the furniture also adds many additional choreographed moments with fast paced and flowing scene changes. James manages to get perfect comical performances from each of his leads; all of them create believable three-dimensional characters and also show the tenderness beneath their humorous exteriors. His well-directed ensemble cast also gives a sense that the people working at the company in the show, Consolidated Industries, are a family.

As the three leads, Brandi Bigley, Emily Giauque Evans and Chelsea Janzen as Violet, Judy and Doralee, respectively, excel in their parts, with never once trying to mimic Tomlin, Fonda and Parton's mannerisms or accents. Bigley makes Violet a professional with a hint of briskness and frustration that ties nicely into the dialogue about how she is constantly passed over for promotions. She has good comic timing, but also effectively and warmly shows Violet's serious side. When Violet believes she has accidentally poisoned Hart, Bigley brings a heightened level of zaniness to the character, but never makes her unrealistic. She has a lovely singing voice and has a large dose of fun with her solo "One of the Boys." Judy is the character in the show with the most growth, and Evans' portrayal of her starts out as a mousy woman prone to crying and frantic and nervous looks, which works well for this "fish out of water," since Judy has gone back to work after years of being a non-working housewife. But she blossoms with her new-found confidence and Evans gives a powerful, moving and soaring performance of her solo "Get Out and Stay Out." Janzen gives Doralee a nice country twang, but never once tries to mimic Parton's famous accent. While she has the least to do of the three leads, she gets one of the best scenes when she confronts Hart with a gun, and Janzen delivers that moment effortlessly with sheer comic abilities and conviction. She also has the touching solo "Backwoods Barbie" that she delivers with a lovely sense of resilience.

Hector Coris is appropriately lecherous and domineering as Hart, though he manages to not make Hart a caricature but instead a realistic portrayal of an old-fashioned tired businessman who just happens to be unhappily married and believes that the women in his office are all just "girls" for his personal use. While Coris is the bad guy in the show, he is having a blast playing "mean" and when he gets tied up and hung up in a harness he manages to turn that sequence into a comic gem, flying high above the audience with glee. As Roz, the co-worker who has a hidden love for Hart, Tracy Payne Black is a knock-out, with an appropriate level of sass. Her "Heart to Hart" solo, in which she confides her love for Hart, gets a powerful and hilarious delivery. Corey Gimlin as Violet's co-worker Joe, who is interested in having a relationship with the somewhat older Violet, is touching and endearing with a sweet amount of charm. The duet that he and Bigley share, "Let Love Grow," gives them both a lovely moment to shine.

Nicely done creative elements include Adam DeVaney's set design that uses square earth-tone colored patterns, which are also used in a lighting design projection on the stage floor to give us a flavor of 1980s corporate America. Period touches include the abundance of typewriters, rotary phones, and that aforementioned large Xerox machine that transcend us back in time. The combination of Addy Diaz' costume designs and Cambrian James' wig designs bring back all of the bad style choices of the early '80s with a period perfect combination of big hair, billowy blouses, dresses with padded shoulders, scarves and oversized eye wear. Jeff A. Davis' lighting designs are well done and lush. I also liked the use of a few simple projections that include a rotating clock projection on the stage floor and the heart projections that shine on the side walls.

9 to 5 is a rousing, goofy, period piece musical with just the right amount of poignancy amongst the laughs. Fast moving and full of high energy, with a stellar cast and perfect direction, the Hale production of the show charms and impresses.

The Hale Centre Theatre production of 9 to 5 runs through May 17, 2014, with performances at 50 W. Page Avenue in Gilbert. Tickets can be ordered at or by calling (480) 497-118

Director / Choreographer: Cambrian James
Music Director: Lincoln Wright
Set Designer: Adam DeVaney
Costume Designer: Addy Diaz
Lighting Designer: Jeff A. Davis
Wigs: Cambrian James
Stage Manager: Justin Peterson

Violet: Brandi Bigley
Judy: Emily Giauque Evans
Dora Lee: Chelsea Janzen
Franklin Hart: Hector Coris
Roz: Tracy Payne Black
Joe: Corey Gimlin
Margaret/Ensemble: Lizzie Baggleman
Candy Stripper/Ensemble: Harley Barton
Dwayne/Ensemble: Vinny Chavez
Kathy/Ensemble: Kate E. Cook
Nurse/Ensemble: Monica Domschot
Intern/Orderly/Ensemble: Nate Dutson
Dwayne/Ensemble: Tedd Glazebrook
Rick/Detective/Ensemble: Matthew Ryan Harris
Julie/Ensemble: Shelby Jensen
Missy Hart/Ensemble: Heidi-Liz Johnson
Maria/Ensemble: Tina Kahlil
Josh/Ensemble: Tim Oakes
Tinsworthy/Security Guard/Ensemble: Lee Pitts
Bob Enright/Cop/Ensemble: Michael Schwenke

Photo: Nick Woodward/Hale Centre Theatre

--Gil Benbrook

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix