Broadway is abuzz about a certain matchmaker’s overdue return, but the Dolly I’d like to bring to your attention can be found atop center stage at Wright State University’s first-rate production of the 2009 Tony Award-nominated musical comedy “9 to 5” inside the Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center.
No, Dolly Parton isn’t actually roaming or haunting the CAC these days, but her gleefully earthy, videotaped narration is a huge part of the great charm abundantly flowing from this delightfully humorous yet incredibly stinging satire of female empowerment in the workplace circa 1979. It’s true this show would be just fine without Dolly (her narration was not part of the Broadway production), but she will always represent the film’s nostalgic appeal nonetheless due to her iconic, toe-tapping title tune, one of the best movie songs never to win an Academy Award.
Based on the popular 1980 film of the same name starring Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, “9 to 5,” featuring a libretto by original screenwriter Patricia Resnick, bluntly examines discrimination and sexism as Violet Newstead, Doralee Rhodes and Judy Bernly join forces to put their “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” boss Franklin Hart, Jr. in his place. During a night of partying, the trio playfully imagines how they’d kill Franklin, but through a series of accidental shenanigans they eventually kidnap him and smoothly turn Consolidated into a rejuvenated utopia of productivity, positivity and promise. One of the joys of Resnick’s witty and relevant script stems from the ladies joining in solidarity to accomplish the seemingly impossible. Sure, one of them could have taken the lead and received the credit, but the fact that the three of them became stronger together as friends, women and brave examples makes all the difference in the world.
Firmly directed with a keen comical eye by Greg Hellems, assuring the action is continually bolstered by Violet, Doralee and Judy’s compatibility, the production is enjoyably and respectively led by Bailey Edmonds, Natalie Girard and Meredith Zahn. The lovably stern Edmonds, notably beginning Act 2 with a snazzy rendition of “One of the Boys,” one of many new tuneful if generic songs Parton wrote for the stage version, effectively interprets Violet’s desire for advancement having been bypassed for promotions by those she particularly trained. Girard, a recent knockout as Heather Chandler in “Heathers: The Musical,” completely inhabits the required Southern delicacy and spitfire attack necessary to portray the bubbly vivacious Doralee. She effortlessly accomplishes the amazing feat of being on par with the original actress actually present in spirit. Does it get any better than that? In addition to her hilariously impeccable delivery of Doralee’s fiery speech putting to rest a workplace rumor, Girard supplies dynamic vocals during introspective moments (“Backwoods Barbie”) and spirited anthems (“Shine Like the Sun,” “Change It”). Zahn, elegantly dancing up a storm earlier this season as Lucille Early in “No, No, Nanette,” endearingly conveys Judy’s sweet naivety and specific determination to start anew, leading to a wondrously life-affirming rendition of “Get Out and Stay Out” late in Act 2 that nearly stops the show.
Elsewhere, Joey Logan is despicably good as the one-dimensional, utterly insensitive Franklin, shrewdly and eerily injecting shades of President Trump when the mood suggests. Emily Chodan scores big laughs as nosey secretary Roz Keith who secretly pines for Franklin with sensual abandon in the aptly titled “Heart to Hart.” Zach Fretag (Violet’s love interest/co-worker Joe), David Emery (Doralee’s husband Dwayne), Joey Kennedy (Violet’s son Josh and a standout among the male ensemble in “One of the Boys”), Eli Davis (Judy’s ex-husband Dick), Mackenzie Kasbaum (tipsy Margaret), and Cody Westbrook (Tinsworthy in the deliciously playful vein of Leslie Jordan) are notable among an excellent ensemble cast.
Choreographer Megan Wean Sears’ lively and character-conscious routines, Michael S. Brewer’s efficient set design, Jessica Drayton’s expert lighting, Emily Sollinger’s colorful period attire, and music director Scot Woolley’s rip-roaring orchestra are also noteworthy.
Women have made significant strides in the nearly 40 years since “9 to 5” took America by storm, but there’s still room for growth from equal pay to reproductive health care to the presidency. Let us aim to keep moving forward until the tide turns and rolls everyone’s way.
“9 to 5: The Musical”continues through April 2 in the Creative Arts Center Festival Playhouse of Wright State University, 3640 Col. Glenn Hwy., Fairborn. Performances are March 30 at 7 p.m.; March 24, 25, 31, and April 1 at 8 p.m.; and March 25, 26, April 1 and 2 at 2 p.m. Act One: 80 minutes; Act Two: 45 minutes. Tickets are $22 for adults and $20 students and seniors. For tickets or more information, call (937) 775-2500 or visit www.wright.edu/theatre-tickets.