‘9 to 5: The Musical’ at The Arlington Players by Julia L. Exline

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The Arlington Players presents the DC area premiere of 9 to 5: The Musical, based on the popular 1980 20th Century Fox film, with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton and Book by Patricia Resnick. John K. Monnett directs and choreographs this zany production. Set in 1979, a group of strong-willed women rise up against their misogynistic – but powerful – boss. “Working 9 to 5…it’s enough to drive you crazy…” But will they let him drive them crazy?

Allison Gendusa Block, Elizabeth Yeats, and Jennifer Vernazza-Lambert. Photo courtesy of The Arlington Players.
Allison Gendusa Block, Elizabeth Yeats, and Jennifer Vernazza-Lambert. Photo courtesy of The Arlington Players.

Set Designer Amanda Acker creates a multitude of locations, sometimes with several onstage at once! Beds, desks, bathroom stalls, and other various props are wheeled on and offstage for different sceneries, with the main scene depicting an office bull pen – several rows of plain desks, all identical down to the last detail, with a typewriter sitting front and center. No decorations, no bright colors to liven up this hopeless workspace.

Lighting Designer Ryan Desmond highlights appropriate areas of the stage, depending on where action is taking place, and Sound Designer Keith Bell adds effects such as rhythmic typing, ticking clocks, and shrill alarms. Overall, this does not seem like the happiest place to work. The late 1970s is best depicted in costumes, designed by Laura Fontaine with brightly patterned dresses and pantsuits for the women, who stand next to heavily moustached men with their hair teased high. A large, live, and talented orchestra beneath the stage provides the lively musical score, conducted by Musical Director John-Michael d’Haviland.

When meek, sweet Judy Bernly’s (Allison Block) husband Dick (Mark Hidalgo) leaves her for a much-younger women, she finds herself thrust back into the work-force at Consolidated, where her senior supervisor Violet Newstead (Elizabeth Yeats) immediately notices her rusty skills. Violet knows the difficulty of a single woman supporting herself, and takes Judy under her wing. The workplace is an unfair one where sexism reigns supreme, and their frustration is shown in the famous opening song, “9 to 5.” Meanwhile, their chauvinistic and downright creepy boss, Franklin Hart Jr., (Russell Kopp) is bound-and-determined to seduce his uninterested secretary Doralee Rhodes (Jennifer Lambert), in his song, “Here For You.”

Doralee is a fun, friendly woman who is snubbed and ignored by the other women because of her glamorous looks, which she proudly defends in her song, “Backwoods Barbie,” and finally gains respect from Violet and Judy. When Violet’s expected and earned promotion instead goes to an undeserving man, her anger boils over into a ridiculous situation that quickly snowballs into chaos. Together, the three women slip into an adventure full of scandal, schemes, and blackmail. The hole that they find themselves in is a deep one…but will their new friendship be able to lift them up after all?

Allison Gendusa Block, Elizabeth Yeats, Russell Kopp, and Jennifer Vernazza-Lambert. Photo courtesy of The Arlington Players.
Allison Gendusa Block, Elizabeth Yeats, Russell Kopp, and Jennifer Vernazza-Lambert. Photo courtesy of The Arlington Players.

The performances are solid, and the three leading women all have fantastic singing voices. Annie Ermlick takes a funny turn as Roz Keith, a supervisor who is madly in love with Mr. Hart, and proves a nice foil to the other women. Her song “Heart to Hart” earned a lot of laughs from the audience. The most powerful number, however, belongs to Allison Block, whose fierce rendition of “Get Out, Stay Out” had the audience cheering.

The large ensemble works well together, and the dances by Monnett are seamless, inspired by different styles like country line dancing in “Cowgirl’s Revenge” and slow, sultry pairings in “Dance of Death.” The group choreography is well done, particularly in the energetic number “Change It.” Russell Koops successful plays the ‘boss from hell’ and you’d like to join the women in their revenge plot. T

The Arlington Players’ 9 to 5 is a double knockout. It’s a truly outlandish slapstick musical comedy with thought-provoking commentary. It takes an important social  issue and interprets it in a fun, cheeky way, supported by great music, solid direction, fun choreography, and excellent performances.

This is theatre at its finest!

Running Time: Approximately two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

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9 to 5: The Musical plays through April 20, 2013 at Thomas Jefferson Community Center – 125 South Old Glebe Road, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, purchase them at the door, or order them online.

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John Monnett on Directing and Choreographing ’9 to 5′ at The Arlington Players by Karen Batra.