Milburn Stone Theatre (MST) is GUILTY! Guilty of making a catchy tune stay in your head recurring as you walk down the stairs in your home or while making your tea or even while practicing your own piano. However, instead of being criticized for committing this misdemeanor, MST should be applauded as it brings one back to their bright, sparkling production of 9 TO 5 at Cecil College in North East, MD. Dolly Parton has taken the 1980 film in which she starred with Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda and expanded it into a play partnering with Patricia Resnick for the plot and providing the additional music and lyrics herself. Dolly even makes herself a part of each production by requiring her appearance by video throughout.
The second wave of feminism was in full force in 1979, the setting for 9 TO 5. While there had been powerful women in the workplace leading up to this period, i.e., Coco Chanel, Mother Jones, and Lucy Parsons, 1970s women in all walks of life began really analyzing “the glass ceiling” and what needed to be done to break it. The film was a tribute to what had been accomplished so far and encouraging more of the same. While the “glass ceiling” has been cracked and more women are finding their way into boardrooms, 9 TO 5 was released in 2009 as a play to continue this encouragement and to let women know that the status quo would return if it is not faced and forced to change.
While the need to persuade requires realistic portrayals of these very real people in a difficult situation, S. Lee Lewis as director led his performers toward the other option of high-speed, more stereotypical portrayals. Marji Eldreth gave a rousing, easy-to-like Violet Newstead. Eldreth worked well with Jayne Lewis as Judy Bernley and Rebekah Latshaw as Doralee Rhodes. Bernley is vulnerable and uncomplicated while Latshaw is a complex combination of down-home attitudes with a big city style. Together they formed a tight, working unit of women trying to survive “in a man’s world”. As every protagonist needs a formidable enemy, these women have Ryan Wagner as Franklin Hart, Jr. Wagner portrays his Hart with the sense of entitlement that is very familiar to those of us who worked during the 1970s. The support cast does quality work also with special kudos to Suzette Burgess as Roz Keith as Burgess portrays Keith as a women consumed with “her man” and allowing the audience to see what that type of consumption does. The song, “Heart to Hart”, was brilliantly staged and Burgess was fearless as she let her emotions rage.
The choreography was stellar. Bambi Johnson successfully energized this group of non-professional dancers and had them looking synchronized and polished. This very physical and demanding work reinforced the singing stylings done both by leads and ensemble. Anthony Vitalo’s work as musical director was obvious in the individual and ensemble songs. While the use of the recorded music together with thorny mixing and ticklish headsets caused hearing problems, this cast persevered still giving their audience a musical worth watching!
From the opening number the performance energy at MST is palpable. Kristin Ellert with scenic design and Emma School with costuming do a great job in making the 1970’s gaudy, orange and brown set color scheme work with the short dresses, leotards, peasant blouses and wrap skirts of that period in tones of dusty rose, bottle green and rust worn by the female cast. It is fortunate — really, really fortunate — that the flared trouser, large lapel, polyester, 3-piece suits for men have gone away, and School did well with what can still be found. The large piece set was required and nicely designed by Ellert to provide the variety of scenes while allowing the ensemble enough dancing area when required. Ellert chose to use bulky, moving pieces to supplement several key scenes, and this did cause some disruption to the rapid pacing otherwise shown through the production.
9 TO 5 is a rollicking, colorful, musical visit to a time when men were entitled and women were tired of being subservient. Its lesson about self-reliance and productivity coming with employee valuing and empowerment is still necessary today. MST and their 9 TO 5 will give people something to think about! Go! And think!
9 TO 5
Book by Patricia Resnick
Music and Lyrics by Dolly Parton
Directed by S. Lee Lewis
February 1 – 10, 2013
Milburn Stone Theater at Cecil College
100 Seahawk Drive
North East, MD 21901
Box Office: 410-387-1037