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Theater Review: 9 to 5- The Musical

PC: Jack Grace
Dolly Parton’s decision to turn “9 to 5,” her 1980 comedy film blockbuster, into a Broadway musical was an obvious and inevitable choice. Considering how most lifelong fans of the movie immediately begin singing the theme song whenever someone brings it up, few films are more perfectly suited for a musical adaptation. The Allison Janney-starring Broadway adaptation ran in 2009 and now, at The Historic Iao Theater, is Kalani Whitford’s very funny ode to women in the male-dominated workplace of the 1980’s.

Lina Aiko Krueger stars as Violet, a long suffering, over-qualified underling to her nightmare of a boss, Mr. Hart (played by Jerry Eiting). While Mr. Hart shamelessly flirts with his secretary Doralee (Lia Krieg-DeSouza, in the Dolly role) and promises great things to his loyal corporate spy Roz (Lisa Teichner), he abuses his power and flaunts his outrageous recklessness. The arrival of the inexperienced Judy (played by Kathryn Holtkamp) shakes things up, as Violet and Doralee find a kindred spirit, partner in crime and a toke partner for some good ole’ Maui Wowie (yes, this carried over detail from the movie plays well in Wailuku). Some girl power, a sense of entitled outrage and some strong Valley Isle Kush cause the ladies to rack up kidnapping, captivity and fraud charges but it all turns out okay. Ah, the ’80’s.

PC: Jack Grace

Whitford’s show is a busy musical comedy with complex staging, forceful comic turns and some great, original tunes. It’s also too faithful to the source material (which, of course, isn’t Whitford’s fault). Lots of throwaway bits from the movie, like Violet’s exchange with a hospital underling, are crammed into a top heavy first act. Of the three revenge-fantasy sequences (a highlight of the movie), only the second and third of the trio reach the intended level of hilarity. The film noir-infused bit doesn’t play, though this sequence was reportedly a problem on Broadway, too. What always clicks is the chemistry of the three leads, as well as the commitment of a hard working ensemble cast.

Krueger more than fills Tomlin’s shoes as Violet; whether donning a Snow White costume or hungrily devouring Ruffles while stoned out of her mind, Krueger is a riot. Holtkamp is a delight as Judy and, like her co-stars, has a voice that makes her ballads soar.

PC: Jack Grace

Krieg wisely decided to dial down the accent and, instead, accentuate Doralee’s vulnerability and sunny good nature. It’s obvious to point out how tremendous a singer and performer Krieg is, so here’s a bigger compliment: Few actors, no matter how good, could pull off shaping an endearing, multi-faceted character while dressed as Dolly Parton. Krieg finds the heart of the character.

Eiting avoids mimicking Dabney Coleman, taps into his inner man-child and takes the role of Mr. Hart as far as it can possible go (which is a long, long way). If Donald Trump had an id for all the world to see, it would look a lot like Eiting’s ravenously horny, what-me-worry scoundrel.

PC: Jack Grace

Roz, Mr. Hart’s assistant and confidant, is the true villain of the piece. Hart may be a “sexist, egotistical, lying hypocritical bigot,” but he’s an obvious nuisance, a recognizably dated creature of habit. Roz, on the other hand, is a two-faced sell-out and snitch, who openly lusts over her chauvinist superior and stabs her colleagues in the back. She’s repulsive…and hilarious. What a joy it is to watch the lovely Teichner fully embody the wormy, scheming Roz.

I also enjoyed Stephen Webb’s charming performance as Joe, Rueben Carrion’s suave bit as a genuine rhinestone cowboy, Lin McEwan’s amusing cameo as the clueless Mrs. Hart and Sandra Bowes’ thoroughly hilarious, scene-stealing turn as Margaret, who never goes to work sober. If this sounds like a lot of fun, that’s because it is.

PC: Jack Grace

Vicki Nelson’s rich costumes are as striking and essential to the production as Caro Walker’s amazing, one-of-a-kind sets, which resemble the inside of a Rubix Cube. The spitfire lyrics and bouncy cadence in the songs are unmistakably Parton’s, whose fans should turn up to see how well the country music legend can craft a show tune. “Let Love Grow” is my favorite of the songs, though good luck getting the title song out of your head anytime this month or the next.

“9 to 5- The Musical” celebrates the progress women have made in corporate America, as respect, room for deserved promotions and proper acknowledgement of vast accomplishments are no longer a thing of the past. In the decade of Reagan, Atari and Duran Duran, women often adorned boxy business suits, endured daily onslaughts of sexual harassment and suffered unfair and cruel behavior. While it’s all in fun, Parton’s musical is a tribute to the hardships women face, in the past and today. Consider this a stern caution to all the Mr. Hart’s who are all still practicing business as usual: do not @#$% with your assistant, secretary or intern, or she may very well push back and hit you where it counts.

Before “Designing Women,” “Office Space,” “Mad Men,” “The First Wives Club” and “The Office,” there was “9 to 5.” Now, in musical form, Whitford’s farce pays loving tribute to all those who’ve ever thought, “I swear sometimes that man is out to get me!”

9 to 5 The Musical plays at The Historic Iao Theater through August 6th. Tickets can be purchased by calling 808-242-6969 or by going to mauionstage.com.

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About Barry Wurst II

Barry Wurst II

Barry Wurst II is a senior editor & film critic at MAUIWatch. He wrote film reviews for a local Maui publication and taught film classes at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs (UCCS). Wurst also co-hosted podcasts for Screengeeks.com and has been published in Bright Lights Film Journal and in other film-related websites. He is currently featured in the new MAUIWatch Podcast- The NERDWatch.

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