Set in 1979 and narrated by none other than musical legend Dolly Parton herself (via video), NC Theatre’s 9 to 5 burst onto the stage last night. The musical, which is based on the 1980 film and which features music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, is every bit as big, bold, and beautiful as the beloved singer. Plus, expert directing by Eric Woodall, an engaging cast with three powerful female leads, and killer choreography from Robin Levine don’t hurt either!
The story centers around three women. There’s Violet (Lauren Kennedy), a widowed mom; busty, sweet Dolly-inspired Doralee (Ryah Nixon); and Judy (Sara Jean Ford), who has been forced into working life after being abandoned by her no-good husband, aptly named Dick (Jeremy Gaston). The one thing these three women all have in common? A “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” of a boss named Franklin Hart. Poor Ben Davis is tasked with this slimy role, and he does it so well that the opening night performance elicited actual “boos” from the audience.
Viewers meet these colorful characters in the larger-than-life opening number, which features fast-paced choreography to match the frantic reality of employment at Consolidated Industries. All three female leads instantly showcase their strong vocal skills, while also setting the sweet, silly tone for a show that, much like Dolly, also has a lot going on underneath the surface.
As the women accidentally-at-first overthrow their boss, viewers get the message loud and clear that poor treatment of others isn’t to be tolerated, a message that still needs to be heard in 2021. Don’t worry, though. This show never comes off as preachy or pedantic. Instead, it’s pure fun and joy from start to finish.
After all, who wouldn’t want to watch dance numbers featuring spinning desks, totally radical period costumes (LeGrande Smith), and an impressively diverse ensemble cast that puts in every bit as much effort as the leads?
Aside from all the glitter and shine, though, this show definitely has its tender moments. One of the nicest comes when Violet, Doralee, and Judy solidify their friendship with a little “baking” party. It’s an absolute blast to watch Lauren Kennedy, who often finds herself in more serious roles, squirt whipped cream into her mouth, and the camaraderie between the three women feels real and tangible. The sense of girl power is visceral. Plus, each character is well-written and fully developed, as evidenced by Nixon’s stellar performance of “Backwoods Barbie” and Judy’s painful interactions with her estranged husband. Adding to the fun is Lulu Picart’s hilarious turn as Roz Smith, a woman who is (somehow) enamored with her boss. Picart is absolutely hilarious in this love-to-hate-her role, proving that, in this show, the women are where it’s at.
Imbued with fantasy cutaways featuring everything from cowgirls to fairy princesses and woodland creatures, all elaborately costumed of course, this show is a wacky good time. More than that, though, it’s a nice look at the more inclusive place theatre is becoming, as well as an impactful message about how far we’ve come . . . and how far we still have to go. As long as shows like this one keep hitting the stage, though, there’s a good chance we’ll get there.
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