Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dancing Back to 1979 with 9 TO 5: THE MUSICAL at IWU

Nine to Five, the 1980 movie, was very much a piece of its time. This bright, cheerful flick about women's empowerment in the workplace gave us Dolly Parton in her film debut, plus she contributed the bouncy title song, set to the clicketyclack of a typewriter.

Dolly was always an original, a natural, somebody whose bodacious exterior belied her brains and talent. When she played Doralee, a secretary whose bodacious exterior belied her brains and efficiency, it was a perfect fit.

9 to 5: The Musical is full of Dolly Parton's music, and the character of Doralee is very much like Dolly, no matter who's playing the role. That's a double-edged sword, however. It gives the show a certain energy and charm, especially in the music, but without Dolly herself pulling you along for the ride, the flaws in the book (written by Patricia Resnick, co-screenwriter back in 80) are more apparent.

Or maybe it's just that 2009 isn't the same as 1979, and what seemed funny and righteous then seems kind of tacky, kind of wrong now. As 9 to 5: The Musical unfolds, as underappreciated, mistreated Doralee, Violet and Judy kidnap and immobilize Franklin Hart, their sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot of a boss so that they can run the biz, as Resnick's script wends its way through various fantasy sequences, including the lurid and squicky sexual yearnings of uptight office drone Roz, who has a thing for Mr. Hart, things get a little unpleasant. Why is it so wrong for Hart to demand that Violet get his coffee, but dandy for Violet to make Roz go get hers? Are we supposed to think Hart is a pig for ogling Doralee's butt when she fantasizes about branding his? There's a crudeness to the situations it's hard to get past.

Judy (Christine Polich) arrives for work in 9 to 5:The Musical
Still, director Scott Susong and his able cast at Illinois Wesleyan make the most of what 9 to 5: The Musical offers. Kate Rozycki is a warm and appealing Violet, and Christine Polich is reminiscent of the fabulous Christine Ebersole with her tuneful, graceful turn as Judy. As Doralee, Lizzie Rainville is in the unenviable position of trying to compete with Dolly Parton, plus her wardrobe is curiously buttoned-up, undermining her "Backwoods Barbie" image, but she's sunny and fun, and her red cowboy boots are adorable.

Kristin Ellert's burnt orange and olive green scenic design (see the poster, way up at the top) is also nifty, with set pieces flying in and out smoothly and Joshua Levinson's Mr. Hart flying up and down (as in the image at left).

In general, the costumes, courtesy designers Maggie Sheridan and Marcia K. McDonald, are kicky, bringing back the late 70s and all that era's sartorial disasters in living color. And wait till you get a load of Elaina Henderson's wigs and hair designs... Mullets! Wispy shags! Wings!

Kudos also to Jean MacFarland Kerr for choreographing funky dance numbers that fill the stage with maximum moves and minimum people. There are quite a few production numbers built into the show, and they all come off well.

Music and lyrics by Dolly Parton
Book by Patricia Resnick

Illinois Wesleyan University School of Theatre Arts
McPherson Theatre

Director: Scott Susong
Scenic Designer: Kristin Ellert
Costume Designers: Maggie Sheridan and Marcia K. McDonald
Lighting Designer: Stephen Sakowski
Sound Designer: Ian Scarlato
Assistant Director: Anna Klemperer
Musical Supervisor/Conductor: Saundra DeAthos-Meers
Musical Director: Saul Nache
Choreographer: Jean MacFarland Kerr

Cast: Heather Priedhorsky, Patsita Jiratipayabood, Jack Courtard, Emilie Hanlet, Savannah Sleevar, Halimah Nurullah, Katryce Bridges, Jenna Haimes, Marek Zurowski, Adam Walleser, T. Isaac Sherman, Kate Rozycki, Jacob Sussina, Mandi Corrao, Lizzie Rainville, Will Henke, Adrienne Fisk, Annie Kehler, Kayla White, Ian Stewart, Jordan Lipes, Zach Wagner, Brittany Ambler, Joey Chu, Christine Polich, Elliott Plowman, Joshua Levinson.

Remaining performances: November 16 and 17 at 8 pm, and November 18 at 2 pm

Running time: 2:15, including one 15-minute intermission

For ticket information, click here.

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