Strong performances highlight uneven '9 to 5'

A single mother constantly passed over for promotion. A sexy, big-chested secretary tired of being harassed. A divorcée on her own for the first time. A lecherous and unscrupulous executive who runs his office with an iron fist. And a cast of downtrodden, put-upon workers singing and dancing to Dolly Parton songs when they’re not trying to dodge the boss or his sycophantic office manager.

Theatre Lawrence opened its 36th season (and the last in its current building) with the working-class musical, “9 to 5” Friday night. Set in 1979, the show tells the story of Violet (Erin Fox), Doralee (Jennifer Foreman), and Judy (Melia Stockham) as they struggle under the yoke of Franklin Hart, Jr. (Charles Goolsby). Meant to capture the spirit of the women’s movement of the 1970’s and of “The Little Guy” in general, the show tries very hard to be endearing and uplifting. As talented and as hard-working as Theatre Lawrence’s cast is, a weak script keeps them from realizing their potential.

Kay Traver/Theatre Lawrence

Kay Traver/Theatre Lawrence by Alex Parker

Based on the 1980 film, the story concerns the three main characters kidnapping their boss after Violet accidentally poisons him. Forced to take matters into their own hands, they keep him locked up at his house while his wife is away on a month-long cruise, and they then turn the office upside down by making improvements in his name.

But Patricia Resnick’s script meanders aimlessly for most of the first act, which lasts for over an hour and a half and has 11 songs. When the women finally kidnap Hart and it looks like things are going to get moving, it’s time for intermission.

In the second act, a twist emerges, deus ex machina-like: Hart is cooking the books, but the women don’t have enough evidence at first to put him away. Rather than developing that story line, though, Resnick and Parton spend most of the second act having each of the women sing a song of her own personal empowerment.

None of the show’s problems is the fault of the actors. All three of the leads work very hard to try to pull it off. In particular, Stockham is both sweet and funny as the naïve and inexperienced Judy. Her personal lament in “I Just Might” is moving. Foreman shows plenty of spunk and a powerful voice as Doralee. Fox is hilarious in a Snow White costume, singing “Potion Notion” in which she fantasizes about killing Hart.

There were strong performances throughout the ensemble. Goolsby was clearly having a ball playing the despicable Hart. Every time he came on, he owned the stage, and his number, “Here for You,” in which he reveals his lust for Doralee, is one of the highlights of the show. But his character almost completely disappears in the second act, and we miss him.

Likewise, one wishes Kim Scarbrough had more stage time as the rules-loving office manager, Roz. She perfectly captures the role of petty tyrant – the person everyone who’s ever worked in an office hates. She sings “Heart to Hart” with gusto, and her lament in the second act, “5 to 9” is both sweet and funny.

Cristoph Cording gave a fine performance in another role that was too small. As Joe, the junior accountant, he created real chemistry with Fox. It’s obvious from their first interaction how much Joe wants them to be together, and Cording plays the anguish to the hilt without overdoing it. His duet with Violet, “Let Love Grow,” is easily the best moment in the show.

Kay Traver/Theatre Lawrence

Kay Traver/Theatre Lawrence by Alex Parker

In the end, you find yourself rooting for these people, but it’s because you want talented actors to succeed, not because the script is uplifting. Before the performance, director Doug Weaver told the crowd at the pre-show reception that “9 to 5” went through several rewrites while it toured. It’s a shame there wasn’t at least one more.

“9 to 5” runs September 22, 23, 27, 28, 29, 30, and October 4, 5, 6, and 7. Sunday performances are at 2:30pm. All other performances are 7:30pm.

Comments

Abdu Omar 10 years, 4 months ago

I enjoyed the play and thought this was as good an attept at that show as anyone could do given the script and its obvious weaknesses. One main thing that came through to me was the diction and enunciation of the spoken words. The pace was too fast for some of the cast but needed to be to get through that first act.

As I watched the final dress rehearsal, I was unmoved by the performace of Doralee, Jennifer Foreman. Her virbrato got in the way of her lyrics and she was hard to understand, but she seemed to grow into the part as the rehearsal continued. Judy seemed to overplay her part at her first appearance but also seemed to warm up. Slow down and enunciate. Erin Fox was outstanding the entire show. The other cast memebers were adequate and did what they could with the script. I am sure these things will improve as the show plays out.

However, the bit about Hart crouching on the desk to watch Doralee pick up the pencils was foolish because Doralee didn't have on a low cut dress, so what's the point?

The use of the door opener was excellent because there is little fly space.

I agree with the reviewer assessment that the script was weak. But with a few exceptions, every script TL does is weak. I remember the one about the overweight woman who couldn't get a date, hohum. And there were others that I don't remember the names of the plays.

The direction of the show, other than the choice of the script, was very good. His stage pictures and movement have direction and purpose, his pacing was good and the actors bounced off of each other well.

The band was really weak at first but, like the actors, they warmed up into a fairly good ensemble.

I think a community theatre has the responsiblity to lift the audience into something more meaningful and not just entertainment with a poorly written script. The actors and stage crew would do well with something with meat, like "To Kill a Mockingbird" was last year. What a good experience. Entertain the audience with something they can think about. Make a statement.

Jeff Blair 10 years, 4 months ago

The first act has run one hour and fourteen minutes fairly consistently, not 90.

Jean Robart 10 years, 4 months ago

I was at the dress rehearsal Thursday evening, and loved it. There was so much opportunity to laugh and smile. It was EXACTLY what I wanted out of the show, an evening of pure entertainment. I don't look at Theatre Lawrence as a venture to "uplift" the community at all. I look at it as providing an evening of entertainment, whether the script is weak or strong.The play I saw Thursday night was great fun, which everybody needs once in a while. Well done Theatre Lawrence!

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