Just like the 1980 movie on which it is based, 9 to 5: The Musical, a harmless little feminist fable, is a better show than it sounds.
Three disparate women office workers overcome their male chauvinist boss and keep him bound. They run the office better than he did, with some feminist employment practices. It’s hardly a secret why this piquant trifle has charmed millions: Three great female roles and a stays-in-your-mind title song can win audiences over.
The movie was a breakthrough for Dolly Parton, who wrote the title song and essentially played herself. Doralee is a presumed bimbo, who’s really smart and ambitious. This broke Parton out of the country ghetto, raising her profile and her asking fee. In 2009 Parton enlisted Patricia Resnick, who co-wrote the original, to form a new script that would accommodate musical numbers. Parton composed the new score herself, most of it in classic Broadway idiom, miles away from Nashville.
With characteristic generosity, Parton and Resnick anointed Violet, an older office drone played in the movie by Lily Tomlin, as the lead. Reputedly, this was to accommodate star Allison Janney at the spring 2009 opening; her lack of vocal chops has been cited as one reason for the relatively short run. That’s not what happens at the Central New York Playhouse production, which runs through Sept. 26.
When Violet first appears with an oversize black wig and a stern scowl, we can barely recognize Shannon Tompkins, one of the best-known faces in community theater. Credit director-choreographer Stephfond Brunson for getting us to re-imagine Tompkins as a rebel and a boss lady. Her well-established musical and dance talents are put to good use with the opening number “Around Here,” and reach a peak with “One of the Boys,” with the male chorus.
Korrie Taylor, herself a director of rising reputation, brings a cutting wit to Doralee. Although Taylor is usually cast as an attractive leading lady, she now gets to flaunt the endowments that put her in Parton’s company. The naïve Judy (the Jane Fonda part), whose uncomfortable entrance to the office launches the action, is played by assured newcomer Gabrielle Gorman, who climaxes Judy’s growing independence with “Get Out and Stay Out.”
Defying the conspirators and a traitor to her gender is office snitch Roz Keith, secretly smitten with the boss. Always game for a challenge, licensed scene-stealer Kathy Egloff makes her song “Heart to Heart” a hilarious and horny show-stopper.
In the otherwise thankless role of the boss, Robert G. Searle is still the maestro of the patriarchal snarl, mastered as a high priest in Jesus Christ Superstar. And music director Abel Searor’s deft handling of the eight-player band has plenty of bounce, more than enough to make Dolly proud.