By Daniel Skora
It seems that the ladies who work at Consolidated Industries have had their fill of Mr. Franklin Hart, Jr., company president and chief antagonizer. Hart is a male chauvinist, and though he fancies himself a womanizer, his lecherous ways are more inclined to failure than success. The time is the 1970’s and women have begun to seriously flex their collective muscle in the business world. But gender equality has not yet found its way to Consolidated, and its female employees remain entrenched by their Smith Coronas and Remington Electrics and working the “9 to 5”, which happens to be the name of the lively and enjoyable musical currently being put on by Dexter’s Encore Musical Theatre.
“9 to 5” is, of course, the hit song written and sung by Dolly Parton for the film of the same name. The movie’s success eventually led to a Broadway musical with Parton contributing music and lyrics and Patricia Resnick writing the book. Though its New York run was rather brief by Broadway standards, it’s a happy feel-good show and Encore’s lively production is both refreshing and highly entertaining.
The musical tells the story of three ladies who decide to take on the male-dominated culture of the office where they work. Violet (Stacia Fernandez), a long-time employee of the firm, is in charge of training all the new hires that come into the company. Judy (Thalia V. Schramm) is a new employee with no experience. Doralee (Alex Koza) is Hart’s buxom secretary. The three band together when events tell them they’ve had enough: Violet gets passed over for promotion by a guy whom she’s trained, Judy is hit with divorce papers from her husband who’s been having an affair with his secretary, and Doralee learns that Franklin Hart (Ernest William) has been spreading false rumors about having an affair with her. While bonding at Violet’s house (over a joint, no less) each has a fantasy about how best to do in their boss. After nixing any solutions that have to do with violence, the ladies end up kidnapping Hart and keep him “dangling” while they go about remaking the office’s oppressive atmosphere into a more user-friendly one.
The Encore’s production of “9 to 5” is more enjoyable than a triple-decker sundae with whipped cream and a cherry on top. The female leads are awesome wwhile the entire 18-member cast is both enthused and talented. Ms. Parton’s songs are a mixture of country, rockabilly, and R&B sifted through the Broadway music grinder. Some, like “Backwoods Barbie”, have Parton written all over them, the others having easily accessible lyrics and music.
Highlights of this all-around winner include: Dolly Parton’s appearance at show’s beginning and end by way of video, giving a big-time show-biz feel to the entire show; Meredith Steinke’s choreography accommodating several production numbers with a chorus numbering in the double digits on Encore’s limited staging area and still making it seem that there’s room for several more; the crowd-pleasing tap dancing of Sebastian Gerstner who appears as Joe, a junior executive who’s been trying to make inroads into a relationship with Violet; “Let Love Grow” the emotional duet between Joe and Violet (Gerstner and Fernandez) where that relationship becomes a possibility; Thalia V. Schramm’s vocals on “Get Out and Stay Out”, Judy’s second-act paean to her female liberation;.
Oh, and that cherry on top of this wonderful mix of comedy, song and dance, and storyline? It belongs to Sarah Briggs who, as Roz, Hart’s dowdy assistant and secret admirer, vamps it up in a scene of wishful seduction while lamenting the fact that her boss pays her no heed.
Others in the cast include Encore regulars and some first-timers, all of whom contribute as subordinate characters and part of the ensemble: Anne Bauman (the office tippler), Tim Brayman (Consolidated’s CEO), Daniel A. Helmer (Judy’s ex-husband), Maika Van Oosterhout (Hart’s wife), Josh England (Violet’s son), Bryana Hall, Erika Jost, Gabrielle Minchella, and Kasey Donnelly (female staffers), and Dan Laird, Billy Eric Robinson, and Jared Scott (male employees).
“9 to 5” is a crowd-pleaser that has plenty of laughs, lots of good-time music, and a story about the battle between the sexes that never seems to go out of style. Check it out for a fabulous evening of entertainment. The show is directed by Ray Frewen with set design by Sarah Tanner, costumes by Sharon Larkey Urick, lighting by Daniel C. Walker, and sound by Chris Goosman. The five piece band is under the direction of R. MacKenzie Lewis. Stage manager for the production is Caroline Ragland. Props are by Anne Donevan, projection design by Stephanie Busing.
“9 to 5’’ runs through August 27th. Tickets are available by calling 1.734.268.6200 or going online at www.theencoretheatre.org/tickets. Encore Musical Theatre is located at 3126 Broad Street in the historic village of Dexter. If you’re coming west on I-96, exit at Baker Street.