OCT's '9 to 5' high-energy fun
“9 to 5: The Musical” does not deliver the subversive giddiness of the 1980 movie with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton. But that’s not to say the 2009 musical comedy/office revenge fantasy, a brassy production of which has opened at Oregon Cabaret Theatre, is not as entertaining as all get-out.
The original was energized by two mega-trends of the 1970s. Second-wave feminism was mainstreaming awareness of the inequity of the position of women, including in the workplace, even as American corporations, retrenching after the social justice movements of the 1960s, were moving to reassert their hegemony.
“9 to 5: The Musical” is the same little-guy-versus-the-system story as the film, with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton and a book by Patricia Resnick, who co-wrote the screenplay. The show exaggerates the things that worked in the movie (the evil boss, some questionable jokes) but adapts to the demands of the musical comedy form quite readily.
The generally warm-hearted songs have Violet (Suzy Newman), Doralee (Alyssa Birrer) and Judy (Katie Beck) grousing at the indignities of life at the office, confessing their secrets, bonding with each other and eventually claiming their power and overthrowing their sexist boss, the loathsome Franklin Hart Jr. (Galloway Stevens).
Newman pulls it all together as the ultra-competent, long-suffering Violet (the Lily Tomlin role), without whom the offices of Consolidated couldn’t run, but who keeps getting passed over for promotions because she’s a woman. Birrer hits a good, Dolly-esque note as naive hillbilly secretary Doralee (the Parton character), sounding and even looking the part. As newly divorced Judy, who has no office skills and is the least confident of the three, Beck must find her inner warrior if these women are to bring off their office coup.
And this is an office that delights in humor like this: What do you call a woman who’s lost 95 percent of her intelligence? Divorced.
The Franklin Hart role has been dialed up a notch on the lewdness meter from the character Dabney Coleman played in the film. Hart dumps pencils on the floor and mugs as he gawks at Doralee’s behind as she picks them up. He peers down the front of her sweater like a raunchy adolescent and humps the set as he sings “Here for You.” Yes, he’s supposed to be a “sexist, egotistical, lying hypocritical bigot,” but there’s something just smirky in all this.
Under Michael Jenkinson’s direction, this is a high-energy show. The music is the most impressive part, and the singing, backed by the recording provided by a Broadway instrumental track library, is strong throughout. Each of the major characters is a capable solo singer. The choreography, also by Jenkinson, is fun, splashy and occasionally spectacular on Jason Bolen’s adaptable office set, scaled down from Broadway dimensions to a cabaret show.
Some of the show’s best strokes come in fantasy sequences. In “Heart to Hart,” Roz, Hart’s loyal minion, shows unrequited passion. In “Dance O’ Death,” Judy, stoned on a marijuana joint Violet got from her teen-age son, imagines taking revenge on Hart. In “Potion Notion,” Violet slips into a bucolic fairy tale with cute animal puppets.
The film was set in its own time. Keeping it there renders it a period piece. We are reminded of this by a Rolodex, the Walkman, Hart’s mustache, vests, padded shoulders, Atari, the TV show “Dallas,” casual Fridays, coffee spokespeasant Juan Valdez, telephone answering machines.
These things, which wouldn’t have drawn attention to themselves in the 1970s, now seem like a grab bag of minutia. Some of the humor has the same feeling. And, of course, the story’s vision of an enlightened, humanistic corporatocracy is not at all what the 1980s would bring. But it won’t do to think too deeply about any of this. In the end, “9 to 5” doesn’t preach. It merely invites us to have a good time.
"9 to 5" continues through July 3. For tickets, see www.oregoncabaret.com or call the box office at 541-488-2902.
Reach Medford freelance writer Bill Varble at email@example.com.