note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
As the theater darkens, a large, round clock descends on stage, hanging mid-air, as the band rhythmically opens Ogunquit Playhouse’s rollicking, slaphappy production of “9 to 5 The Musical”. Suddenly, Dolly Parton, the show’s composer-lyricist and co-star of the multi-award winning 1980‘s movie version, is talking to the audience via video - from that big, round clock.
She explains the musical, which initially appeared on Broadway in April 2009, is based on an era when women didn’t earn the same pay as men for doing the same job. They were stuck in menial business jobs without hope of advancing to higher management, and many male bosses were condescending, sexually exploitive and abusive. The technological era hadn’t breached the horizon, either. “Apples and Blackberries were [things] we picked from our backyards,” Parton says.
Ironically, “9 to 5” is the same name as a women’s non-profit organization that Boston office employees formed in 1973 to address work-related and family issues, pay equity, and sexual harassment. Their efforts were rewarded in 1991 with a Civil Rights Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act. Although conditions for women have vastly improved, the play’s message remains relevant, given some of these same issues are extant.
But this musical comedy isn’t meant to be serious. In Patricia Resnick’s fun book and script, three women, very different from each other, form a friendship and bond, to improve their and their female co-workers’ lot temporarily. They kidnap, hogtie, and give their boss, Franklin Hart, a taste of his own degrading medicine for a month, suppressing and hiding him while they enact sweeping office changes and conditions.
Although the plot is too ridiculous to be true, Ogunquit’s talented cast of 21 and crew, admirably led by Director Keith Andrews, eke every drop of craziness out of the show, especially indomitable, versatile Sally Struthers, who gets downright dirty and naughty. As office snitch-spy Roz Keith, her heart belongs to Hart, she oozes. And Edward Staudenmeyer is deliciously despicable as Franklin Hart, the women’s sleazy, married, sex predator-boss in a suit, whom they discover has been tipping into the company till.
His comments like, “What do you call a woman who loses 95 percent of her intelligence? Divorced!” and his double-entendre wise cracks are infuriating. Hart is a self-proclaimed “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot,” who drools over shapely, young married Texas Dolly Parton lookalike, Doralee Rhodes, whom Becky Gulsvig portrays with the innocence of a “Backwoods Barbie in a push-up Bra” and cowgirl resolve. Doralee doesn’t understand why her co-workers reject her. She thinks they’re judging her by her sexy appearance, until she realizes Hart lied to everyone, claiming she’s his mistress.
Although office supervisor, (i.e., glorified secretary), Violet Newstead, (Carrie McNulty) has worked faithfully and efficiently for the company for 15 years, Hart chose a less experienced male for the promotion she coveted. Violet is the uptight, widowed mother of teen-ager, Josh (Billy Marshall Jr.). He offhandedly gives her a packet of marijuana, saying she needs to loosen up.
That’s just what she does, with buddies Doralee and Judy, who giddily plot their revenge. They’re aided by shy, company junior accountant Joe (Peter Carrier), who’s younger than Violet - in his 30s - but infatuated with her. “Let Love Grow,” he sings, hoping to win her over.
Also-willing partner-in-crime, new hire Judy Bernly, (Erica Aubrey), never held a job and has no office skills. Her husband, Dick, (Tim Barker) left her for his 19-year-old secretary. As Violet trains Judy, her self-confidence and independence grow. Besides delivering a commendable metamorphosis, Aubrey breaks loose in her solo, “Get Out and Stay Out,” while sending the unctuous Dick away, once and for all.
Although her part is mostly walk-through, Beth Glover as office lush Margaret repeatedly steals the spotlight.
Musical Director Andrew Austin, Conductor Ken Clifton and the band create a full orchestral treatment to every number, accentuating veteran choreographer Gerry McIntyre’s energetic routines.
Designer Robert Andrew Kovach’s sets are impressive, too, but Trevor Bowen’s costumes are less definable. In her opening comments, Parton says it’s 1979, but props hearkening back to the emergence of electric typewriters, a Xerox machine (is that an errant computer screen, too?) dial telephones, along with conflicting mores, are throwbacks more to the 1950s.
Theatergoers weren’t about to quibble over these details. They were too busy laughing.
BOX INFO: Two-act musical comedy written by Patricia Resnick, music, lyrics by Dolly Parton, featuring two-time Emmy Award winner Sally Struthers, currently appearing through Sept. 15 at Ogunquit Playhouse, 10 Main St., (Route 1N), Ogunquit, Maine. Tickets start at $39. For showtimes and more information, call the Box Office at 207-646-5511 or visit ogunquitplayhouse.org.