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Theater Review: Talented Cast in Theater Winter Haven's '9 to 5'

The musical is slightly dated, but the performances are lively.


Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 10:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 10:04 p.m.

Theatre Winter Haven takes audiences to the days of typewriters, leisure suits and the women's rights movement, in its production of "9 to 5: The Musical."

In the late 1970s, more women opted to combine motherhood and a career, and many sought to move beyond typing pools into boardrooms.

In 1980, their story was told with humor and music in Dolly Parton's smash hit movie, "9 to 5." The film's theme song became the anthem for women seeking empowerment.

"9 to 5: The Musical" is based on the movie, with music and lyrics by Parton. Like the film, the musical tells the story of three women with very different personalities struggling to survive in an oppressive work environment run by a male chauvinist.

But the musical premiered in Los Angeles during 2008 — nearly three decades after the film — and presents a disjointed look at office life in the 1970s. Many of the scenarios are almost unfathomable in today's society. A boss who gropes his well-endowed female employee is likely to be slapped with a lawsuit. And rare is the woman asked to fetch her boss a cup of coffee these days.

Pandemonium ensues as the women become friends and react to their domineering and lecherous boss, Mr. Hart.

While Parton's songs are touching and for the most part lively, they can't make up for the play's trite moments, such as when the licentious Mr. Hart drops a jar of pencils so he can look down the well-endowed bosom of Doralee or later when he finds himself handcuffed to a bedpost by his employees.

But Director Katrina Ploof saved this production by casting experienced and talented performers who bring considerable zing to their respective roles, including a sizable supporting cast and extras.

A TWH regular, Lori Engler is spot on as Violet, the strong and ambitious head secretary and single mom. While easily eliciting laughs with crazy antics, Engler is at her best when she allows Violet's softer side to emerge in scenes with her teenage son, aptly portrayed by Shane Truax, and during tentative flirtations with company accountant Joe, subtly played by Travis Whirl.

Stephanie Coatney, an experienced performer fresh off a professional tour as Emily in "Freckleface Strawberry," does Parton proud as the sexy but wholesome — and happily married — object of Hart's advances. One moment she draws laughter with well-timed lines like, "I'll change you from a rooster to a hen in one shot," and the next minute she renders the audience silent with the poignant country tune, "Backwoods Barbie."

Sara Catherine Barnes, who drew praise as Tracy in last summer's "Hairspray," presents a stunning change in the insecure, recently dumped Judy, a shy new employee empowered by the women's quest for revenge.

Mark Hartfield, last seen in drag as Edna in "Hairspray," shows versatility as the male chauvinist corporate boss, Mr. Hart. His Hart is a caricature of arrogance and self-absorption, but he can belt out a tune with as much power as his female cast mates.

Nicole Frier, as Hart's frumpy secretary Roz, brings down the house when she vamps it up and declares her unrequited love for her boss during a roaring rendition of "Heart to Hart."

The set, designed by Gary May, allows for quick scene changes, including various bedrooms, the corporate typing pool office, Hart's office, an elevator, and a hospital hallway.

Lighting designer David Castaneda brings out the best in each scene with creative lighting, from casting windows of light in Hart's office to spotlighting the bed where he is held captive, and transporting him to a green-hued jungle.

Costumes by designer Camille McClellan harken to the often horrendous fashions popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s — the layered look, leisure suits, vests, and shirt dresses cinched at the waist.

The 10-piece pit orchestra, while a bonus to the performance, is so subdued that the instrumentation isn't defined.

On Saturday, the flow of the performance was marred at times by issues with the sound system, making it difficult to hear dialogue over squeaks or when mics stopped working.

Despite a few snags, the production provides an enjoyable theater experience. Looking beyond the tired gags and outdated societal references enables the audience to see the gold in this production of "9 to 5: The Musical": entertaining performances by a versatile and talented cast.

[ Donna Kelly has been covering arts and entertainment in Polk for 10 years. ]

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