The bitter cold Friday night was no match for the overwhelming, sunny warmth of the revenge of the sexes musical “9 to 5” that opened at Schenectady Light Opera Company and is playing through January 26th. Eighteen talented performers warmed the house up quickly under the direction of Stephen Foust, choreographed by Sara Paupini and accompanied by a crack band of 8 under the superb musical direction of Adrienne Sherman. There were only a few empty seats as SLOC’s loyal audience including dozens of Capital Region performers showed up to cheer on the troupe’s efforts in this less than stellar musical.
“9 to 5” tells the story of three women who take on their “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical” boss Franklin Hart, Jr. (Nick Foster). Judy Bernley (Kelly Sienkiewicz) has recently returned to the workforce after her husband ran off with his secretary. Violet Newstead (Joan M. Horgan) has been working within the system for years, hoping to get that elusive promotion and Doralee Rhodes (Erica Buda-Doran) is his secretary who he spreads rumors of a sexual relationship with. When the three women see the opportunity to turn the tables on their boss, they seize it.
As a musical, “9 to 5” ran for less than six months on Broadway in 2009 with a book by the film’s screenwriter, Patricia Resnick and 20 new songs by Dolly Parton. The film of “9 to 5” came out in 1980 and was Dolly Parton’s launch into mainstream success. She wrote the title song and became only the second woman to chart at number one on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Country lists. She also won two Grammys in the country category for the song and was nominated for an Oscar for it.
The three lead women in SLOC’s production are fantastic. Joan M. Horgan takes over the Lily Tomlin part from the film and it was wonderful to see her back on stage. If she shies away from some of the character’s harder edges, she has a delicious time with her revenge fantasy “Potion Notion” and her command of the office is something I can get behind. Erica Buda-Doran is terrific in the Dolly Parton role of Doralee Rhodes and she does more than a credible job with one of Parton’s theme songs “Backwoods Barbie.” Best of all is Kelly Sienkiewicz taking on a character I have not seen her play before in the Jane Fonda role of Judy. After her fantastic work in the past couple of years in “Mamma Mia!,” “Young Frankenstein” and especially “Wild Party” she shows up here almost meek and unsure of herself at the top but she seizes the 11 o’clock number “Get Out and Stay Out” and brings the house down. She is the consummate musical actress making smart choices with every opportunity and has the talent and skill to forcefully communicate her transformation. Her tender steps into the downstage light at the show’s climax and her roar of emancipation in this song’s final verse were thrilling!
Nick Foster does a great job as the lecherous boss, never overselling the villain but working his wiles truthfully. His wolf song “Here for You” is great fun and I especially liked his Heisman closing pose. As strong and persuasive as the leads are, director Stephen Foust does a great job with his ensemble as well, giving almost everyone a moment to shine. Standouts were Katherine Stephens grabbing every laugh possible as the office drunk, Amanda Rogner as the boss’s suck-up Roz who lets loose deliciously with “5 to 9” and especially Jeffrey Hocking as the owner Tinsworthy in another one of his signature walk-on roles. Huzzah Hizzoner!
The physical production is better than serviceable with a multi-level set that had three doors downstairs that could swing into a different space instantly, designed by Marc Christopher which facilitated quick scene changes. The scene changes were accompanied by three of the ensemble working out dance moves downstage by choreographer Sara Paupini which led directly into the next scene. At one point, TJ McMaster tries out every Manero move in the book leading into his promotion party in the boss’s office. There’s never a stage crew scurrying around in the dark but the action moves continuously from one scene to the other with the ensemble carrying out the changes with witty dances throughout. If they become repetitive by the evening’s end, blame the musical’s mise en scene. I strongly applaud the efforts. The costumes and wigs by JJ Buechner are fun, over-the-top, cheese chasing the ’70s vibe.
It was a great time in the company of hundreds of good people celebrating a musical with a 40-year-old story about women striving for workplace equality and the prospect of taking the top job but it must be said it’s not a very good musical. The title song is by far the strongest number in the show, nothing else comes close, and the book is lame. It takes a great premise and drags it through the mud. making numerous dick jokes. It doesn’t fulfill its intentions and its transformative scene is unconvincing. Still, it was more than a worthwhile evening spent in this scintillating company. And as the title song has made its way into a certain presidential candidate’s rally playlist, we can all hope that attendance and applause at this show translate into real change.