In the age of #MeToo and the Time's Up movement, Mitchell Area Community Theatre has plucked a propitious gem of musical theatre to bring to the stage. "9 to 5: The Musical," with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, sheds a sometimes uncomfortable light on the not-so-old days when women were passed over for promotions, looked past as unqualified, or viewed as pretty creatures for men to make passes at, all within the workplace.
The popular film of the same name debuted in 1980, but it wasn't until 2008 that Parton, along with screenwriter Patricia Resnick and Colin Higgins, reworked the script for the Broadway stage.
It tells the story of three women: competent and hard-edged Violet; good natured, voluptuous Doralee; and newly divorced Judy embarking on her first job experience. All are subjected to some form of humiliation or harassment by their boob-of-a-boss Franklin Hart. A fortuitous accident allows the women to take things into their own hands.
Veteran director Jessica Phillips, along with musical director Jenna Miller and choreographer Aaryona Nedved, have staged a version faithful to the original with a mix of new and familiar faces. Kate Johns-Miller is assertive as Violet, aspiring to take on the task of becoming a more compassionate CEO. Megann Davis's Judy elicits sympathy from any woman who has ever faced the challenge of returning to the workplace after choosing to stay at home. Megan Reimnitz is delightful as Doralee, the "Backwoods Barbie," and Monty Bohrer takes a comedic, lecherous turn as Mr. Hart. Also enjoyable is Tricia Hamilton as Hart's annoying assistant, Roz. Standout performances belong to Mark Puetz (Joe) and first-timer Pam Iverson (Margaret), the office lush.
I will confess that I was not familiar with any of the musical numbers with the exception of the title song. The pre-recorded accompaniment made some of the lyrics a little difficult to understand. But the entire cast brought energy to several numbers, notably "Potion Notion" and "Change It." Puetz delivered a beautiful rendition of "Let Love Grow," his duet with Violet.
The set, designed by Devin Carey, consists of modular pieces that in turn evoke a workspace, a CEO's office and a bedroom. There is great use of a hoist for comic relief and the cityscape backdrop is visible in a clever window hanging in Hart's office. Carey's lighting also provides some charming touches to several scenes. Costumes by Ruth Sejnoha conjure the late 1970s, particularly the men's leisure suits and Judy's fussy dresses.
In some ways, American corporate culture has come a long way since 1980. But to spend any time reading news, maybe not as far as it may have. The glass ceiling has cracked, but there are many women who are just now sharing stories of their own personal "9 to 5" nightmares. Let's all hope that the days of chasing the secretary around the desk or accepting lower pay as status quo are in our rearview mirror. Someday, someone will be staging the musical "#MeToo." Let's all be certain to buy tickets for that show.
The show by Area Community Theatre has performances Friday, May 11, and Saturday, May 12, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 13, at 2 p.m. at the Pepsi-Cola Theatre. Tickets are on sale at the theatre or more information is available at 996-9137 or www.mitchellact.org.