This review may contain possible spoilers
I am not going to lie. The motion picture classic, 9 to 5, is one of my favourite comedies. At last count, I have watched it more than a dozen times.
When PLOS Musical Productions announced the musical as their latest offering, I begged Theatre People to let me review it for them.
Situated in Melbourne’s outer south-east, PLOS is one of the state’s leading musical theatre entities. In the last decade alone, this veteran company has earned outstanding critical and consumer praise, as well as countless awards, for staging such spectaculars as:
· The Addams Family;
· The Boy from Oz;
· Legally Blonde;
· Little Shop of Horrors;
· Miss Saigon;
· Thoroughly Modern Millie; and
9 to 5 may potentially be their biggest creative and technical challenge yet.
Released in 1980, the movie starred Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton. Directed by Colin Higgins (who had also helmed the romance-thriller, Foul Play), and, co-written by Higgins and Patricia Resnick, 9 to 5 was a whip-smart take on corporate workplace injustice. Resonating with audiences everywhere, it went on to become one of the biggest box office success stories of the year. A popular television sitcom soon followed, running from 1982 to 1988.
In recent years, there has been a trend of adapting hit motion pictures to the musical stage. These translations include such diverse fare as Aladdin, American Psycho, Beauty and The Beast, Billy Elliot, The Bridges of Madison County, The Color Purple, Dogfight, Newsies, and Once. It seemed inevitable that 9 to 5, known for an inventive script, and brilliant chemistry between its three female leads, would eventually follow suit.
Parton, who composed the original movie’s theme song, was commissioned to write the catchy score. An intensive workshop set the wheels in motion, followed by an out of town tryout in Los Angeles.
From there, the show opened on Broadway in April 2009.
With its running theme of female empowerment, that powerhouse cast included former Wicked alumnae, Megan Hilty (as Doralee Rhodes), and Stephanie J. Block (as Judy Burnly). Completing the trio, The West Wing’s Allison Janney, played wise-cracking Violet Newstead. Tony Award nominations for best score, lead actress, featured actor and choreography prompted a national tour, as well as a West End transfer.
For this passionate fan of the film, I was curious to see how it had been rebuilt for the stage. This is by no means a play-by-play facsimile, with tunes used simply to intersect the original dialogue. Instead, Parton’s musical contribution fleshes out each character, expanding on the moment, and driving the experience home with intelligent lyrics and and accessible music.
Further, Resnick’s revised book offers some fresh plot twists, as well as giving viewers the chance to discover and embrace a new mainstream musical made strictly for grown-ups. Think How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, meets Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, with touches of Legally Blonde andHairspray thrown in for good measure, and you’ll get the idea.
In bringing 9 to 5 to fruition, PLOS presents what must have been a long yet thorough, planning and rehearsal period.
This is a cohesive, full-scale production, featuring a thirty-one person cast, a sixteen-piece band, and countless backstage support. How exciting it is to see everyone’s commitment to the project, paying off in spades with a polished, professional outcome.
Director, Joel Batalha, and musical director, Phill Scanlon, rise to the challenge, keeping the show light, fast-paced, focused, and consistently entertaining.
The hand-picked cast is uniformly excellent, with strong singing, acting, and dancing from everyone. Each player has a solid grasp of characterisation, and in many instances, brings their own point of view to the table. Overall, the group’s shared comic line delivery, balanced by moments of thoughtful drama, are always on the money.
The three female leads, Courtney Smyth (as Violet), Sarah Ginsberg (as Doralee), and Sage Pahos (as Judy) like their movie counterparts, share a legitimate connection. Smyth brings the sass and savvy, Ginsberg, grit, and Pahos, strength.
Their standout shared and solo musical moments include ‘Around Here’, ‘I Just Might’, ‘Backwoods Barbie’, ‘Dance of Death’, ‘Cowgirl’s Revenge’, ‘Potion Notion’, ‘Shine Like The Sun’, ‘One of The Boys’, and ‘Get Out and Stay Out’.
As the villains of the piece, both Mario Mohorko (as Franklin Hart Jnr) and Janet Reid (as Roz Keith), give delicious, fearless performances. Mohorko reminded this reviewer of a certain trumped-up political leader in his song, ‘Here For You’, and Reid, rendered me speechless with an obsessive love for her boss in ‘Heart to Hart’.
Of the countless other highlights, these included:
· the tender duet, ‘Let Love Grow’ shared between Smyth, and her bumbling love interest, Joe (Aidan Niarros);
· Elise Stevens as the office alcoholic, Margaret;
· Daragh Wills as the chairman of the board, Tinsworthy; and
· Verity Brown as Hart’s adoring wife, Missy.
On the technical front, Brett Wingfield’s production management is dynamic, exciting and, ground-breaking.
Instead of a traditional set, in many instances, scenes are created using animated graphics projected onto large scale, moving panels. This approach is shown to great effect in ‘Dance of Death’, ‘Cowgirl’s Revenge’, ‘Potion Notion’, as well as sequences positioned around the company elevator and a general hospital waiting room.
Set pieces and props from the film include the Consolidated Industries’ office area, Violet’s reconfigured automatic garage door opener, the car used to kidnap Hart, and of course, the famous malfunctioning photocopier. It should also be noted, all are ingeniously designed for easy placement and removal.
Choreographic duties were shared by sisters, Monica and Tess Sabbatucci.
Together, they gave Parton’s songs complex depth and dimension, showcasing both their inspired vision and the cast’s extensive dance skills. Using diverse styles ranging from swing, to tap, and even a hoedown, ensemble highlights included the intricate opening sequence, as well as ‘Around Here’, ‘Here For You’, ‘Heart to Hart’, ‘Dance of Death’, ‘Cowgirl’s Revenge’, ‘Potion Notion’, and ‘One of the Boys’.
As well as being responsible for production management, Brett Wingfield’s delightful costumes were a brilliant throwback to seventies’ fashion and other genres, shown to cheeky effect in numbers such as:
· ‘Dance of Death’ (which painted a smart film noir vibe);
· ‘Cowgirl’s Revenge’ (with oblique reference to Li’l Abner); and
· ‘Potion Notion’ (a hysterical Disney parody which had to be seen to be believed).
Like Wingfield’s outfits, Trent Whitmore’s rich assortment of wigs also rang true to the disco period. Of the many standout moments, one in particular was the number, ‘Heart To Hart’ where the female ensemble all sported identical costumes and hair.
Steve Cooke’s sound design was always crisp and clear, and especially during the songs and productions numbers, provided solid balance between the cast and band.
Jason Lord’s neat lighting design added a sophisticated touch, especially during the songs, ‘Heart to Hart’, ‘Dance of Death’, ‘One of the Boys’, and ‘5 to 9’.
Excellent stage management, coordinated by Karen Bates and Nicole Lylak, kept proceedings smooth and seamless throughout.
There is little to differentiate this confident and assured viewing experience from the likes of StageArt or indeed, The Production Company. With tremendous attention to detail, PLOS knocks their latest show clean out of the park. It would not surprise me in the least if later this year, 9 to 5 sweeps Music Theatre Guild of Victoria nominations in every eligible category.
Overall, this was an outstanding showcase on all performance, creative, technical, and support levels, for which every participant must be fully congratulated.
With only four shows remaining, and tickets selling fast, you’ll need to be quick to catch this quirky, comedic joy ride. Don’t miss out!