WEST VALLEY — There’s a great show playing at the Hale Centre Theatre this fall. The classic movie Nine to Five got a revamp in 2009 as a flashy Broadway musical with book by Patricia Resnick and songs by the country glam queen herself, Dolly Parton. 9 to 5: The Musical opens on Judy Bernly’s first day as a secretary at Consolidated Industries in 1979. Experienced worker Violet Newstead soon realizes how ill-equipped Judy is for a secretary job and decides to help her learn the ropes with a sort of “girl power” motivation. Meanwhile, it’s apparent that the women in the office aren’t very happy–most likely at the fault of their bigoted boss, Franklin Hart. The gorgeous, southern Doralee is constantly avoiding Hart’s inappropriate advances; Violet is vying for a promotion in a male-dominated industry; Judy is struggling to be strong after her husband leaves her; and fellow secretary Maria suspects the woman and men aren’t getting equal pay. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and after a few rousing ballads, the women find themselves in some pretty desperate (and hysterical) situations.
Director John J. Sweeney did an excellent job casting this show. I loved the three leads (M-W-F cast), Bonnie Whitlock as Violet, Angie Winegar as Doralee, and Adrien Swenson as Judy. All three performers played powerful women who in many moments were still completely vulnerable and emotional. I loved seeing the contrast in those moments. Whitlock played an witty, ambitious—but compassionate—single mom who loved her son and was terrified of dating again. She had some excellent moments and really knew how to command the stage. Wineger was the weakest of the three when it came to acting, but more than made up for that with her nimble, powerful voice. I loved that although she was playing a character created (and mostly written) by Dolly Parton, she made it her own. Winegar’s character grew in depth and strength as the show went on; it was wonderful to watch her blossom into the feisty and driven Doralee. Swenson’s voice and comedic timing stole the show for me in many scenes. Her big number, “Get Out and Stay Out” was mesmerizing, and her transformation from a shy, insecure divorcee to a confident, independent woman will surely resonate with women of all sorts. The audience had plenty of cheers for her triumphs the night I attended.
Like I said, excellent casting: the lesser characters were just as great. Rhett Richins as Junior Accountant Joe was adorable in his “crush” on Violet. Although he only had a few scenes, it was clear this his seemingly childish crush of the beginning of the show was really much deeper and more mature. The audience realized this as Violet did, over time, and I attribute that clarity to good writing and great acting. Ali Bennett is turning into a favorite local actress. (I saw her in the Orem Hale’s Xanadu a few months ago and loved her.) Her perfect comedic timing and biting sarcasm is back in the character of Margaret and I couldn’t get enough of it. Give that girl more stage time! Ryan Poole played the smarmy office CEO, Franklin Hart, and got off to a slow start. By act two, though, he had a solid character we could all hate and feel no guilt at cheering in the moments when he got what was coming to him. The ensemble was a great group all around–vocally, in their acting, in their dancing, and in their support of the story and the major character. When they broke off to have moments filling roles as minor characters they were weaker, but as an ensemble were a really strong group.
I really don’t have anything negative to say about this show, now that I think about it. I spent most of it with my jaw on the floor after some incredible technical elements in the triple-header fantasy numbers in act one. I mean wow. Part of me wants to yell from the rooftops about what I saw onstage (mostly in disbelief and awe) and part of me wants to leave it a surprise. And part of me thinks that even if you knew what it was you would still go see it just to see it. In the interest of not spoiling a major surprise, though not a major plot point, the rest of this paragraph has white text. If you’d like read on, highlight over it. Ready for this? Okay. There was a dragon. onstage. A DRAGON. A life-size, fully moving and breathing and blinking and eating dragon. On the stage. Well, it’s head, anyway. You really couldn’t have fit much more than a dragon’s head on that stage. Goodness. I’m still floored about it. Bravo to the puppeteering of Jennifer Stapley-Taylor, Leaf Shelton, and Dennis Hassan, the technical direction of Kacey Udy, and whoever made that magic moment possible. I can’t remember the last time I was so shocked in a such a really really good way. If for no other reason, everyone go see 9 to 5 to see a dragon in West Valley.
I would love to know the production’s budget, because every element was so thorough. Costumes (by Suzanne Carling) and hair/wigs (by Cynthia Johnson) were perfect 1980’s horribleness; the lights were exciting and so well-timed; the set was detailed and realistic (bravo to props designers Michelle Jensen and Melanie Jensen and scenic designer Kacey Udy); and the chairs were the comfiest theater seats I’ve ever sat in. (I know the chairs have nothing to do with the production budget, but…well…they were just so comfy. Props, Hale Centre.) I especially loved the dazzling number of on-stage costume changes. Each of the three lead actresses had an on-stage change, and there were probably more I’m not remembering. With so many costumes, set pieces appearing from above and below, solid (and simple!) choreography by Jennifer Hill Barlow, excellent lighting design by Brian Patrick Healy, and that amazing Hale Centre stage, there was never a dull moment.
I wouldn’t call 9 to 5: The Musical one of the most memorable or well-written of musicals, but you’ll definitely leave the theater with a few tunes stuck in your head and hopefully a few amazing moments emblazoned on your eyeballs. I recommend it. 9 to 5 is a feel-good, girl power musical where the good guys do great things and the bad guys get what’s coming to them. We all love those sorts of endings, don’t we? There are some raunchy moments, so I’d probably throw a PG-13 rating on the show, but go see it. Leave the kids with a babysitter and enjoy a night of quality theater. You’ll leave with a smile on your face.