Last night, I had the pleasure of attending the first full show from the North Carolina Theatre in 18 months. I’m not sure they could have chosen a better show to get us back to the stage. 9 to 5 The Musical is a bubbly and frothy confection that has a wide-ranging appeal for young and not-so-young alike. The show is based on the 1980 film of female empowerment with the same title, starring Dolly Parton as Doralee Rhodes, Lily Tomlin as Violet Newstead, and Jane Fonda as Judy Bernly.
The lead trio of the NCT production is solidly and vibrantly played by Lauren Kennedy (Violet), Ryah Nixon (Doralee), and Sara Jean Ford (Judy). Ben Davis rounds out the headliners as Franklin Hart, the narcissistic, misogynistic and, overall, venal CEO of the fictional Consolidated Industries. Eventually pushed beyond their limit by their bullying boss, Violet, Doralee, and Judy go to extreme measures to make their workplace a safe and satisfying environment, particularly for the unappreciated female employees.
The film was updated with a book by Patricia Resnick and music and lyrics by Dolly Parton. I’m not much of a country-music fan, but I was quite surprised and impressed by Parton’s range with regard to musical styles, particularly for the larger production numbers and some tour-de-force solo pieces.
The show was ably directed by NCT producing artistic director Eric Woodall. I particularly enjoyed his use of the set pieces as part of the choreography. All of the desks and office equipment were on wheels, and the ensemble players deftly moved them about, both in between and during numbers.
Among other delights were Lulu Picart as Roz Keith in a hilariously cast-against-type number called “Heart to Hart,” where she professes her love for her boss in a steamy delivery. It was also great to see local legend Ira David Wood III pop in near the end as Tinsworthy, the Chairman of the Board of Consolidated Industries.
Early in Act II, Lauren Kennedy as Violet nearly brings down the house with a powerful performance of “One of the Boys.” It included a sudden and startling costume change that had me looking for my remote to figure out how it was done. The males in the ensemble added great movement, using only a movable set of stairs.
I would be remiss not to mention NCT’s COVID-19 requirements, as there were constant reminders of the fact that theater has changed. Along with the irony that the show depicts a full and unmasked workplace, the relatively small crowd was bunched together in the front sections. Raleigh Memorial Auditorium requires proof of vaccination and masks, and the opening announcements allowed those uncomfortable to move their seats to a less-crowded area.
I typically advocate for people to take their families to these shows to both introduce them to live theater and to have something to discuss afterward. The Tuesday-night crowd probably averaged 65-70 years old.
I personally would have loved to hear my kids’ take on the disco-era workplace. Why are the skirts all so long? Is this Sister Act? What are those colorful cloth strips around the men’s necks? Why are the phones wired to the wall? Have women always been treated this poorly?
The play included a few jokes about the era, but they were not overdone. There were also a few anachronisms. A pleasant one was the diversity of the cast. Less pleasant was the ensemble member sporting a man-bun. There were also a few too many high fives.
One additional bonus for the young people was unrelated to the show, but still quite impressive. The North Carolina Theatre Conservatory is preceding each performance with a 30-minute set, with three of their students performing an overture of show tunes. Make sure that you arrive early to enjoy this bonus.
Dolly Parton and Patricia Resnick’s 9 TO 5 THE MUSICAL (In Person at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Friday and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 13-17), directed by NCT producing artistic director Eric Woodall and starring Ben Davis as Franklin Hart, Sara Jean Ford as Judy, Lauren Kennedy as Violet, Ryah Nixon as Doralee, and Ira David Wood III as the Chairman of the Board (North Carolina Theatre in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in Raleigh). TRAILER: https://www.facebook.com/nctheatre/videos/459281958762494. 2021-22 SEASON: https://nctheatre.com/show-season/202021-season. NCT NEWS RELEASES: https://nctheatre.com/blog/meet-cast-9-5 and https://nctheatre.com/blog/meet-leading-ladies-9-5. NCT COVID-19 REQUIREMENTS: https://nctheatre.com/blog/covid-19-response-and-updates. VIDEOS: https://www.youtube.com/user/nctheatre/videos. MTI WEB PAGE: https://www.mtishows.com/9-to-5-the-musical. OFFICIAL U.K. WEBSITE: https://9to5themusical.co.uk/ TICKETS: $23.60-$96.29. Click here to buy tickets. GROUPS (10+ tickets): 919-831-6941 or firstname.lastname@example.org. DIRECTIONS/PARKING: https://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/getting-duke-energy-center. INFORMATION: 919-831-6941 or email@example.com. NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16th, performance. PLEASE DONATE TO: North Carolina Theatre. Susie Potter’s Review.
Robert O’Connell is a playwright, and has had dozens of productions and awards throughout the world. He has a MS degree in Management Systems Analysis. A lifelong educator, O’Connell has also published three novels at http://www.flashmobthenovel.com/ and two humor anthologies from his blog, https://thesmartestguyiknow.wordpress.com/. He and his wife have settled in Cary, NC. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.