BY SANDY STAGGS
Limestone College Theatre punches the time clock for its festive year-end musical “9 to 5” based on the 1980 cult movie that sparked a feminist uprising in corporate America and is still the 20th highest grossing comedy of all time.
With music and lyrics by Dolly Parton and book by the film’s co-screenwriter Patricia Resnick, this production directed by Dr. Tim Baxter-Ferguson, is faithful in scope (and risqué factor) to the original 2009 Broadway production that received a record-setting 15 Drama Desk Award nominations, as well as four Tony Awards nominations.
Set in 1979, the story revolves around a trio of office workers who seek revenge on their “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” boss and make some profound and empowering changes in the workplace during his absence.
Jeanna Burch is mousy Judy Bernly, the new girl at fictional Consolidated Industries who, albeit no employment history or administrative skills, is forced to find work after her husband dumps her for his secretary.
Jessie Cantrell plays Violet Newstead, the widow and senior office supervisor and who has been passed over on the corporate ladder because of her gender. And Jade Alford takes over Parton’s role as Doralee, the busty secretary in a tight-fitting fuzzy sweater who is pilloried by the secretary pool for a perceived affair with the misogynistic head honcho, Franklin M. Hart, Jr. (Luke Holt).
The play comically challenges the constant sexual harassment, subjugation of women and general unfair labor practices that until recently were rampant in many companies across this country. And when Violet mistakenly pours rat poison into Hart’s coffee — the Skinny & Sweet box looks almost identical — the ladies are forced to kidnap their boss and hold him hostage S&M style until he agrees not to press charges.
But they soon see an opportunity to improve their office environment and improve productivity with some novel morale-boosting policies such as day care, job sharing and casual Fridays.
The script does omit a few of the funnier parts of the film (the entire corpse in the car trunk scene, for example) to make room for Parton’s glorious songs. In addition to the stellar title track that bookends and underscores the show in various orchestrations throughout, her finer compositions include “I Just Might,” “Shine Like the Sun” and “Change It” all with the gals’ beautiful vocal blending, the whole company in “Joy to the Girls” and a whimsical triple-threat in the ladies’ marijuana-induced fantasies: “Dance of Death,” “Cowgirl’s Revenge” and “Potion Notion.”
The three leads are terrific comedic actresses and deliver the many one-liners with precision. Miss Cantrell dazzles with the fellows backing her in the emphatic “One of the Boys” and the soprano Miss Alford is stupendous in her poignant lamentation on being misunderstood in “Backwoods Barbie,” one of the handful of previously-recorded tunes Parton re-worked with a pop arrangement for this musical. Miss Burch effortlessly transforms from a meek divorcée to a confidant independent woman.
But I must say Holt is one worthy adversary for this spirited trio. Whether he is hysterically pining for Doralee in the naughty “Here For You” or lassoed and hogtied or gagged and dangling from the ceiling, Mr. Holt is one uber-talented actor to keep your eye on over the next three years.
There are some notable differences from the film however. Roz, Hart’s office spy played by the wonderful Christina Grace Wylie, has the hots for her boss in “Heart to Hart” and Violet now has a budding romantic interest in a new character, the junior accountant Joe (a muscular Christian Shupe, who wears nothing but a large bath towel in the opening sequence and breaks out of the ensemble with one of its finest voices.
Other standouts include Hayden Peterson as Judy’s ex-husband Dick; Zach Potter as Doralee’s husband Dwayne; Stephan Corry as Violet’s teen-age son Josh; and Kinsey Gregg as the office lush Margaret.
Dr. Baxter-Ferguson Theatre, who heads the Theatre department, adds many flavored touches to this fun show that may fly right over your head if you’re not paying attention. And he designed the imaginative set with a nod to the original Broadway production’s alarm clock theme — albeit more abstract with various wheels and gears from a clock littering the vibrantly colored scenic painting. But the centerpiece is a turntable set that spins around seamlessly allowing the actors to move from one location to another. And with the crew backstage readying props for the next scene as quietly as Disney mice, it’s a pleasure to anticipate what’s coming around next.
Dr. David Thompson, who is co-chair of the musical theatre major at Limestone, returns as music director and conductor. He has nurtured these young adults for some lovely vocal stylings and the live band greatly enhances the theatrical experience.
Caleb Patterson’s lighting is complex and well-executed and immensely enhances the overall presentation and Jennifer Gardner’s choreography in the ensemble numbers elevate the grandiose of the show well beyond the normal physical limitations of the space.
Miss Gregg (with Jada Bell, who also plays Hart’s wife, Missy) has outdone herself with the many, many costumes for this production, especially Missy’s stunning full-length fur coat and the playful attire in the fantasy sequence, as has Buck Collins with his make-up and hair designs. Though, I would have opted for less country western attire for Doralee.
Kudos as well to technical director Jamie Grindstaff, seamstress Shirley Baxter and stage manager Dylan Siedling, and the entire crew and musicians.
Much — though most would argue not nearly enough — has changed in the workplace since 1979 particularly in sexual harassment protection and cracks in the glass ceiling, but the gender pay gap still exists and other benefits such as paid family leave have yet to be obtained. And you can bet your timecard that these issues will dominate the election in November.
And considering the cast is comprised primarily of freshman and sophomores who likely have never seen a typewriter or rotary phone, much less used either of them, this production portends even more dynamic performances to come in next year’s season that will be announced soon, as well as Limestone’s summer presentation of the Broadway farce “Noises Off” on May 26-29. And don’t miss Limestone’s first annual theatre awards ceremony on Thursday, April 28 at 6 p.m.
“9 to 5” continues Thursday-Saturday, April 14-16 at 7:30 p.m. at Limestone Center Theatre
130 Leadmine St. in Gaffney. Tickets are $10-15 and available at www.showtix4u.com. Free for Limestone folks.