Every female in America who has worked “9 to 5” will find something in the Dolly Parton musical that strikes a familiar chord.
The tuneful tale of three female office workers — their trials and tribulations and how they overcome — opened Wednesday evening at Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre. The setting is the 1980s, but there is no doubt that many of the “roadblocks” experienced by Violet, Doralee and Judy are, unfortunately, still around.
Based on the 1980 movie of the same name, “9 to 5 The Musical” benefits from the addition of many more Parton songs, each of which moves the plot or exposes the feelings of the main characters. The title tune is, of course, the most familiar and it is just about impossible to keep the feet still when the excellent WW orchestra led by Thomas N. Stirling strikes up the opening chords.
Violet Newstead (Kira Lace Hawkins) is a widow with a teen-age son, hoping for the promotion that will recognize her professional accomplishments. Doralee Rhodes (Libby Schneider) is a secretary with a husband and the dream of becoming a country singer. Judy Bernly (Lauren Roesner) is the new girl, recently divorced and learning slowly to stand on her own. She has no secretarial skills, in spite of which Violet hires her.
The snake in the office grass is Franklin Hart, Jr. (David Schlumpf), described accurately as a “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot,” and that’s putting it mildly. He is fixated on Doralee who holds off his chasing and groping in order to keep her job. Unfortunately, reluctance to fight back leads others to believe her a willing participant.
A series of pretty improbable events results in the women holding Hart a captive in his own home. His wife Missy (Heather Dell) is on a cruise, leaving his administrative assistant and office spy Roz Keith (Sarah Jackson), the only one who even notices he is missing. She loves her boss!
Of course, no good deed goes hidden for long but just when it seems that the scheme has failed, like all good musical comedies, everything is right by the finale. (Think “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”)
Along the climb to the top of the corporate ladder — or, at least, to the next pay tier — there is some very excellent singing (this seems to be the year of great voices in Warsaw), some very high-stepping dancing (choreography is by former Wagon Wheeler Marjorie Failoni, asst. choreographer for the Broadway production), and a whole lot of very funny business from the mind of director Andy Robinson, executed with no regard to loss of life or limb (just kidding!) by the no-holds-barred ensemble.
Schlumpf, who opened this season as the scene-stealing Lord Farquaad in “Shrek The Musical,” proves here that tall can be as hilarious as short. Sporting a black handlebar mustache (which he obviously wishes could be twirled), a wicked gleam in his eyes and a killer baritone (too bad Hart’s second act solo was written out to shorten later productions), he is definitely the boss you love to hate!
Hawkins is again a triple threat! Singing, dancing and acting, her character is the strongest of the trio and she delivers beautifully on all counts. Whether dreaming of being “One of the Boys” or giving in to a romance with Joe (Matt Hill), a younger colleague (“Let Love Grow”), she infuses what could be a stock character with warmth, humor and determination.
There is no doubt that Schneider’s Doralee is the Broadway version of show creator Dolly Parton. Blonde curls bobbing, pink knit skirt and sweater hugging every curve and southern accent softening each word, she details her history well in “Backwoods Barbie” and, never losing that familiar Parton smile, is a real audience favorite.
Roesner is the newcomer, several years back fashion-wise and in corporate world experience. Her on-the-job education is interesting and, when she finally stands on her own (“Get Out and Stay Out”), her vocal eviction of her slimy ex is a ceiling raiser and almost too much of a belt.
A crowd pleaser, Jackson is hilarious as she vamps her absent boss in “Heart to Hart,” a soapy serenade to a skank which makes her odd attachment almost understandable. And in the “no small parts” department, kudos to Leigh Ellen Jones for a very convincing tippler.
The production values are up to the usual excellence of a Wagon Wheel show. An added touch is a special video appearance by — but you can check that out yourself.
”9 TO 5” plays through June 29 in the arena theater at 2517 E. Center Street in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.org.