Dolly Parton’s Office Coup
My first reaction to revisiting 9 to 5: The Musical – the 2009 Broadway hit based on Dolly Parton’s 1980 film – was “Oh the memories!” The musical had earned four Tony nominations (including best score and choreography) and I could see why. Brimming with salt-of-the-earth Parton music and lyrics, and book writer Patricia Resnick’s no-holds-barred feminist vitriol, it’s the ultimate female office worker’s revenge fantasy. A night out packed with passion, girl-power grit (shh… I shouldn’t use the term “girl”), forward-thinking ideas, and lots of humor – much like The Queen of Country herself.
The show begins and ends with a headshot video of Parton addressing us from the center of Consolidated Industries’ overhead clock. The kind, feminine-yet-independent- minded superstar’s influence is seen everywhere in the play, and rightfully so. For Dolly serves both literally and figuratively as “the canary in the coalmine” of what’s wrong with our country’s treatment of women in the workplace. Mind you, this was written decades before the #MeToo movement caught fire and complaints of employee harassment were taken seriously.
FAU’s Dept. of Theatre and Dance did such a fantastic job of recreating latter 20th century office culture, they brought me right back to my first, full-time position as an administrative assistant in a mid-size company – uncomfortably so. Like Doralee (Shayna Gilberg, who assumes Parton’s role in the movie), I’d also only learned years later that I’d been the object of an untrue rumor of an affair with the company president, whom I’d never met. In my case, it was how an overly entitled salesman kept the competition at bay. And all employees were required to punch in at the time-clock upon arrival, departure, and for every break. I’m so glad those office days are far behind me.
But then I thought of my daughter and how so many young people nowadays no longer work “9 to 5” in offices, but rather, after being sold on the virtues of flex-time hours – with their ubiquitous cellphones and laptops – are expected to be available 24/7! I’d just decided that “24/7” might be the perfect, follow-up musical for today’s generation, when I read the last line of book writer Patricia Resnick’s bio in the playbill: “She is currently working on a sequel to ‘9 to 5’ alongside Rashida Jones.”
Still, despite the likelihood of bringing up long-buried office memories – or even if you’ve seen the move and/or play before – you’re bound to be swept up by all the vocal talent, live music, exuberance and hilarity of this technically “student” production. But not really, as these MFA graduate and theater-major participants are already experienced thespians in their own right, joined by an Equity-member lead, accomplished director Ted deChatelet, and FAU’s notable artistic staff. There’s even a live, 11-piece orchestra (Caryl Fantel serves as music director/conductor and keyboardist) that plays continuously from an orchestra pit just below the stage. At $25 a ticket (less if you subscribe to the series or are a student), FAU Department of Theatre and Dance productions in their lovely, mid-size University Theatre are likely the best musical deal in town!
“9 to 5”’s three female leads all boast phenomenal singing voices and acting skills. We first meet uber-competent Violet (Cait Siobhan Kiley), the widowed mother of an adolescent son (Alexander Anthanasiou as Josh), busily sorting laundry and her son’s clothing needs – in other words, the typical working mom’s job of doing ten things at once – before heading off in professional dress to the office where she’s a senior supervisor and effectively runs the place. Still her boss, overtly sexist and lecherous Franklin Hart (Mitchell B. Mackenzie) constantly puts her down, along with those he cringingly refers to as his “girls,” while expecting her to be at his beck and call and make his morning coffee.
Well the boxes do look eerily alike. Is it an honest mistake or the fulfillment of her
deepest fantasy when a shocked Cait Siobhan Kiley (as Violet) discovers she’d switched
powders in her boss’s coffee. What follows is nonstop mayhem, madness and hilarity in
FAU Dept. of Theatre and Dance’s not-to-be-missed production of Dolly Parton’s 9 TO
5: THE MUSICAL. Playing now through November 19. Photo by Morgan Sophia
Mr. Hart expects a lot more from knockout country girl Doralee (Shayna Gilberg) who despite being happily sexually active with her husband, knockout male hunk Dwayne (Zach Marullo), is relentlessly pursued by her boss. Calls for dictation devolve into funny (for us, but not so much for Doralee) hot pursuits around the boss’s desk and couch. And she can’t understand why her fellow office workers shun her. All is revealed in time.
The third talented singer/actor to join the female star trio, is new hire Judy (Ana Marie Calise) who’s thrust into the work force with no skills because her husband, the aptly named Dick (Kyle Smith), suddenly ran off with his 19-year-old secretary. Despite totally flunking her typing test (“you know you need to insert paper”), Violet decides to take her under her wing, explaining in song what’s expected “Around Here” that follows the full company’s rousing introductory number of “9 to 5.”
Another iconic song, that also marked Parson’s first personal record label release, is “Backwoods Barbie,” highlighting Doralee’s frustration at being appreciated solely for her looks. And it seems no matter how despicable a man in power behaves, there’s always a woman in the wings who will crush on him and do his every bidding. The hopeless love of Hart’s older and ignored administrative assistant Roz (Toni Turiano) is illuminated in “Heart to Hart” by Roz and ensemble.
But my absolute favorite three numbers, which can be enjoyed as hilarious vignettes on their own – complete with creative costuming and choreography – are up next. (Kudos to costume designer Dawn Shamburger, choreographer & intimacy coordinator Nicole Perry, scenic designer K. April Soroko, lighting designer Thomas Shorrock and sound designer Bryan Sanchez.) They occur when the three women end up at Violet’s house after a particularly trying day and bond over shared joints and shared hatred for the company boss.
Newbie Judy was humiliated after causing a paper fiasco at the Xerox machine; Doralee discovered Mr. Hart had been spreading false rumors about their sleeping together, thus prompting everyone to treat has as a pariah; and, perhaps worst of all, long-suffering Violet who’d done her best to contain her disdain for years in hopes of a promotion, had been passed over by Hart yet again. Adding insult to injury, a young man she’d personally trained is promoted in her place! (An all too common phenomenon. As Hart explains, the young man was chosen because he has a family to provide for and clients prefer dealing with men.)
Each female lead presents a pot-assisted, highly contextualized vision of revenge in song and action. Starting with Judy (who’s joined by Hart and ensemble) in a “Dance of Death” number wherein she portrays a film-noir style femme fatale. Doralee wields her lasso as a weapon, joined by typically shirtless (to lovely aesthetic effect) Dwayne, Hart and ensemble in “Cowgirl’s Revenge.” Last and most fantastical, Violet as a sweet yet unhinged Snow White circled by idyllic birds and woodland animal puppets, poisons Mr. Hart in “Potion Notion” (featuring Violet, Hart, and ensemble).
In the latter case, Violet sincerely believes she’d inadvertently killed her boss by mistaking rat poison for coffee creamer (the boxes do look scarily alike). But I’ll leave you guessing re what happens next. Act 2 is a lot more explicit than one would typically expect from a musical and, in some places, almost R-rated (regarding content, not nudity). But it also boasts some of the most uniquely hilarious, schadenfreude scenes. Key songs include Violet’s dream of becoming chief operating officer in “One of the Boys,” where she’s joined by persistent young beau Joe (Joel M. Rodriguez). And I love Roz’s flip on the 9-to-5 theme when she belts out her sorrow at being deprived of Mr. Hart’s presence in “5 to 9.”
Joe and Violet finally connect romantically with “Let Love Grow.” And Judy embraces her independence – now and forever after – by giving her groveling, adulterous ex-husband the boot in,”Get Out and Stay Out.” No one can say this isn’t the ultimate feminist play … but it also holds life lessons for all of humankind. I especially love how under Violet’s subversive leadership, new “Attitude Adjustment” policies include free day care, job sharing, full-hour-long lunches, even casual Fridays – all of which lead to happier workers and a significant rise in company profits. Leave it to the ladies to set the world right.
And I leave it to you to not miss this super song-packed, action-packed, talent-packed, non-stop entertaining show. Playing only through November 19. Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Department of Theatre and Dance presents 9 TO 5: THE MUSICAL at their Boca campus’s 500-seat University Theatre, 777 Glades Road, Boca Raton 33431. Tickets at www.fauevents.com or call 561-297-6124.