At the Nashville Rep.

9 to 5 was 10 out of 10

The movie this musical is based off of came out in 1980. My dad showed it to me in high school and I rewatched it last year, wondering how it has aged after the MeToo Movement. It’s as hilariously and tragically relevant as ever. I was curious about the musical adaptation: how would the odd comedy adapt to becoming a musical? Would the songs bring the story to a halt? Would good moments be cut? I don’t think there could have been a better adaptation; the spirit of the film, its charm and oddity and ridiculousness, were fitted to the Broadway format with skill. The book was written by Patricia Resnick, who wrote on the original screenplay, and music and lyrics were written by Dolly Parton, who both starred in the original movie and wrote its iconic title song. The musical is an expansion on the movie; there are more jokes, more layers to each character, and not one but two lusting villain songs. 

The premise is simple: Franklin Hart, Jr. is a cartoon of a “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” boss, who demeans the more experienced and competent Violet and constantly makes aggressive advances to his secretary Doralee (played by Dolly Parton in the movie). A third woman, Judy, joins the workplace after being divorced by her unfaithful husband. The women become friends and allies against their awful boss and accidentally commit some federal crimes on their journey to a better workplace.

Dolly Parton is not famous for being understated, and neither is this musical. The orchestra has a big, brassy sound (Conducted by Randy Craft), and the songs call for strong voices with big ranges. It’s impossible to single out any of the lead cast because every cast member sings with power both in the ensemble and in their solo songs. Most of the songs are comic (exactly to my taste) and express story and character elements; the energy of the music makes the plot develop with vibrancy. At the beginning and end of the show a screen shows a recording of Dolly Parton as she gives the introduction and the epilogue, and what could be annoying turns out simply charming; who’s more likable and beloved than the woman who refused a statue at the Tennessee Capitol and whose philanthropy sends children (including mine) free books in the mail?

The set, done by Gary C. Hoff, is large and decked with colorful strips and panes of lighting, done by Dalton Hamilton, making the use of the windowed upper story of the set for silhouettes in ensemble numbers. The vibrancy and variety of color make the musical pop in a satisfying way you wouldn’t expect from a workplace drama. Lauren Yawn’ props work well with the set’s fantastic color scheme, making what could be a drab office into a pleasing and colorful space. I’m sure everyone else in the audience also wanted to play with the classic typewriters and telephones.

Allyson A. Robinson shines with the ensemble

Choreographer Allison Little’s work is excellent; the large ensemble is kept busy. Big dances fill the show, as do frequent costume changes into Lori Gann-Smith’s funny and varied costumes: top hats and tuxedos to rhinestones to business casual. 

Left to right: Megan Murphy Chambers, Mariah Parris, Allyson A. Robinson

Violet, Doralee and Judy are played by Allyson A. Robinson, Megan Murphy Chambers, and Mariah Parris, respectively. They are fantastic: their rapport, laughter and ambitions all come across perfectly. Each of them has comic timing, a heart for their character’s struggles, and a beautiful voice.

The two supportive men in the show are played by the likable Jonah M. Jackson and Justin Merriel Boyd. The villains of the show, Franklin Hart, Jr. and his minion Roz, are a blast. Geoffrey Davin as Franklin Hart, Jr. has Dabney Coleman’s (the original villain from the movie) energy and smarminess (and even sounds like him), and is delightfully hateful with a turn for physical comedy. Roz has her role expanded in the musical, the song about her unrequited lust for Hart ending with six lookalikes dancing around her. Evelyn O’Neal is incredible in the character, making her every moment horrid and hilarious, prompting a man sitting to my left to turn to his friend and whisper, “I love her.” 

Evelyn O’Neal and ensemble

I’ve never attended a Nashville Repertory Theatre show where the audience wasn’t engaged and excited to be there, but I hadn’t seen this level of excitement at an opening night before. The majority of the audience seemed to be in their twenties and thirties. They clapped after every scene, even ones of brief dialog, and laughed at everything. The actors frequently had to pause and wait for them to finish laughing before they could continue with their lines.

Director Beki Baker did a fantastic job leading an excellent musical for the Nashville Repertory Theatre’s opening show of their 23-24 season. They couldn’t have picked a bigger or more exciting way to start, and I’m excited to see more of her work and more of their shows!

9 to 5: The Musical is showing September 8-17. For tickets and showtimes: 9 to 5 | TPAC

For more information about the Nashville Rep: Nashville Repertory Theatre


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