Sunday, April 21, 2024

"9 to 5" at Lyric Arts

In the first of two #TCTheater premieres this season, Lyric Arts is bringing us the musical adaptation of the hit 1980 movie 9 to 5 (the second is Kinky Boots this summer, which had its Minnesota premiere at Duluth Playhouse last summer). With built-in name recognition, shows are already selling out. But the good new is, this 9 to 5 is more than just a recognizable name and an easy sell to audiences. It's super fun and really well done. I'm not sure why it took so long for a local professional theater to do this show (last seen to my knowledge on tour at the Ordway in 2011) - it features a fun original score by the great Dolly Parton and an ever-timely theme of women's rights, workers' rights, and the power of women working together. Directed by one of #TCTheater's funniest women people Shanan Custer (who also knows how to pull on the heartstrings) and featuring a large, talented, and energetic cast, it's a celebratory evening of music-theater. Bring your girlfriends, bring your coworkers, bring your family, or bring yourself to Anoka to see 9 to 5 now through May 12.

9 to 5: The Musical takes place in a workplace in 1979, when women were secretaries rather than administrative assistants, and were disrespected and underpaid (as opposed to today, when there's perfect equality in the workplace). Violet is the single working mother who has risen to the top of the secretary pool at Consolidated, but can't go any further. Doralee (the Dolly character) is the pretty and perky blond whom everyone assumes is sleeping with the boss. And Judy is the newly divorced woman who's stepping out into the workplace for the first time in her life. The three completely different women bond over their hatred for their misogynist, hypocritical, thoughtless boss, Mr. Hart. Fed up with the jerk, the women fantasize about killing him, each in her own unique way. Instead, they merely kidnap him and hold him hostage while running the company themselves in his name. Their plan is to gather evidence that he's embezzling from the company to blackmail him into keeping quiet about the kidnapping. Meanwhile, productivity at Consolidated increases as all the employees are happier under the women's new leadership.* But what will happen when Mr. Hart escapes and the Chairman of the Board shows up? It's a musical, we know what will happen - our "girls" come out on top!

photo by Molly Weibel
The show opens and closes with a voiceover by Dolly herself, which is a fun nod to the creator and to the original movie. Fortunately it's been a while since I've seen the movie or the musical, so I went into the show with a clean slate, without comparisons to certain iconic actors. I found the three lead actors to be perfectly cast, making the roles perfectly their own. Emily A. Grodzik is a strong and wryly funny Violet. Audrey Johnson is every bit the plucky and friendly Doralee (not merely doing a Dolly impression), and Nora Sonneborn as Judy has an endearing vulnerability beneath the charming awkwardness. There are too many highlights in this stacked ensemble cast to mention, but to name a few: Ben Thietje has a lot of fun as the evil Hart, leaning into the sliminess; James Grace has a lovely turn as Violet's potential love interest Joe; and Jack Strub is a hoot playing the role of Hart's loyal secretary Roz (a role I don't think is normally played by a man in drag, but it's a fun choice).

photo by Molly Weibel
As expected, director Shanan Custer brings out all of the wacky humor of the story, keeping the tone light, but with some moments of heart in the connection between the women and their own personal growth (particularly Judy). The show is about two and a half hours but moves swiftly, even the scene transitions are fun to watch, which is a must when there is so much heavy scenery to move in and out. Great choice by Shanan and choreographer Lauri Kraft, as well as the cast, to keep the story and characters flowing wordlessly between scenes. All of the dancing is really fun, perhaps less intricate and exact than Lauri's award-worthy choreography in A Chorus Line that opened this season, but just as impressive. Music Director Bradley Beahen's 12-piece orchestra sounds great playing Dolly's Tony-nominated country-pop-musical theater score, with some fun catchy numbers as well as inspiring anthems.

Speaking of heavy scenery, the stage is bare at the beginning of the show, with just some drab wood-paneled walls with large elevator doors on one side. But half of that wall moves away as Hart's shelf-lined office comes into play, and multiple desks, filing cabinets, beds, bathroom stalls, and Xerox machines are moved in and out with music, dancing, and character work to create different settings around the office and at home. This being 1979, the characters are dressed in fun and fab '70s era office attire, with hairstyles and makeups to match. #ilovethe70s (Scenic design by Greg Vanselow, costume design by Jacourtney Mountain-Bluhm.)

The suburbs is the place to be for musical theater right now. From the beloved classic The Sound of Music opening to sold out houses at Artistry in Bloomington this weekend, to Lakeshore Players Theatre's upcoming production of the hilarious and biting social satire Urinetown, to Lyric Arts dual regional premieres on Main Street Anoka. This super fun, heart-warming, inspirational, and unfortunately still relevant 9 to 5 is worth the trip.

photo by Molly Weibel