Women Run the Show in ‘9 to 5’
Mega-talented cast and musicians shine in this Showtunes short run, a musical workplace comedy of sexism, revenge, and fresh thinking. It closes tomorrow night.
Even with the patience of a saint, we all have our limits. And Violet, a long-suffering typist at Consolidated Industries, has finally been pushed to hers when she learns she’s been passed over for yet another promotion in favor of a male employee. This one is a guy she trained.
Soul-stifling workplaces are nothing new, but Violet — bolstered by two other fed-up employees — decides she’s finding her voice rather than simply finding the door.
And that’s how Violet, Judy, and Doralee end up with their sexist pig boss hogtied, his love-starved toady of an assistant shipped off to immersive language school, and the three of them at the helm of a newly well-functioning, supportive, and productive work environment.
But how long will it hold? And how long will those ropes?
In the Showtunes iteration of 9 to 5: The Musical, director Kelly Kitchens and music director Nathan Young (also the company’s Producing Artistic Director) take a show that’s both comically dated (gushing over the latest in typewriter features, anyone?) and tirelessly relevant (sexism and under-appreciation in the workplace), pair it with an excellent cast of actor-singers, and put it up with a 10-member orchestra, minimal staging, and actors all on book. The result is a show so good — and funny — you’ll forget all about the music stands.
That’s a Showtunes signature: a big cast, short run, concert-style production with top-notch artists, feasible only because of the short rehearsal time but skimping nothing on quality. The musical 9 to 5 — with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, book by Patricia Resnick, and based on the 1980 movie Parton starred in alongside Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin — makes an excellent showcase for this Showtunes style.
Be Russell excels as Violet, the hyper-competent go-to employee, widowed mother of one son, who has thrown herself into her work for little return. Her presence might command in lower circles simply in her loyalty and longevity, but she owns the stage — and the boss’ office — when she finds her voice. Russell is a star; but she really shines taking on Violet’s persona, who can answer with an acquiescing smile and a determined side-eye all in one motion.
Russell’s real-life sister, Sarah Russell, plays her work opposite: Judy, a bumbling, green-as-it-gets new hire who can’t seem to do anything right. Her confidence is so shot from her soon-to-be ex-husband, aptly named Dick, that she clearly needs this job as a confidence-restorer along with the financial independence. She’s also desperate to be well-liked, making her an easy joiner to the plot; but her newfound independence and drive for just deserts make her a natural ally to the mission, too.
Naomi Morgan rounds out the trio as Doralee, the butt of office gossip, whose boss openly harasses her while her colleagues believe her good looks are substitutes for real work. Morgan’s Doralee is a character whose self-sufficient confidence has slid from leering eyes all around.
Under their sexist, possibly incompetent boss (Hart) and his spying toady (Roz), you can feel how long the days are for Violet, Judy, Doralee, and the other women at Consolidated. It’s not about the work. It’s about dodging the harassment to simply do the work; and then fretting about it in the after-hours.
That weariness brings the trio together, and it’s during an uncharacteristic blunt-smoking session — played up so well that even Young was keeling over laughing behind the keyboard — that they start to hatch a plan, followed by an unlikely sequence that forces them into action. And while their means of deposing the boss may be unrealistic, their new way of leading — facilitating productivity by building workers up, rather than putting them on edge — is hardly impossible.
Strong singers Russell, Russell, and Morgan are great leads in these roles, and their voices harmonize well, particularly in a jubilant “Shine Like the Sun.” Amping up the comedy are Karen Skrinde (Roz), in a downright saucy “Heart to Hart,” and Tori Spero (Margaret). Matt Posner was a great awful boss, and Ricky Spaulding worked well as his impish opposite. The orchestra, which Young conducted from the keyboard, is tight. The only piece of the show I could have done without is the occasional intrusion of a dance cohort, which made little sense and distracted from (or outright blocked) the stage action.
9 to 5 is a great pick for the Showtunes style, and it’s also a timely one: matching the current mood of a population in need of comedy and diversion, in a new era of reimagining the workplace. With its combination of thoughtful, enjoyable, and uproarious entertainment, this show is tough to beat.
9 to 5: The Musical runs through 4/16 at the Erickson Theatre in Seattle (Capitol Hill). Tickets $60, available here. Accessibility notes: restrooms are gendered and multi-stall. Theatre and common areas are wheelchair accessible. Financial accessibility note: if any seats remain, $25 rush tickets are available at the box office, one hour before showtime each night.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.