BY JENNA FANELLI
Who doesn’t love Dolly Parton? It seems that the cast and creative team of CM Performing Arts Center at the Noel S. Ruiz Theatre’s production of 9 to 5 would agree with that sentiment, as their utter enjoyment and passion for the music and the story is truly palpable from the stage.
The show, with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton and book Patricia Resnick, is based on the classic 1980 film and situated in the late 1970s. The audience accompanies the main characters, Violet Newstead (Emily Nadler), Doralee Rhodes (Livi Rose), and Judy Bernly (Jess Ader-Ferretti) on a journey of growth, chauvinistic corporate culture, female empowerment and friendship. They bond over their shared frustration over being mistreated and objectified personally and professionally, and join forces in an attempt to make a difference in their workplace and one another’s lives, yielding a touching sodality and earned takedown of a villainous employer.
These three actresses not only nail their vocals as soloists and as a trio, they fully embody their respective roles. Nadler’s balance of vigor, confidence and sarcasm with moments of vulnerability as Violet is seemingly effortless. and Rose simply nails the dialect, physicality and the sweet, lovable and fierce nuance of Doralee. While Parton played Doralee in the film and the character is not far-fetched from the likes of the music legend, Rose brings to life a fully developed, individual character, rather than an impersonation; for Ader-Ferretti’s part, the actress makes audiences holler and well up with emotion multiple times throughout the show, first being garnering sympathy for how timid, soft spoken and defeated she is (she makes you want to run up and give her a hug when she cries), and then again when her progressive growth results in a complete burst of independence and conviction. When she sings “I’m taking back my life,” in her strong, soulful anthem toward the end of the show, you believe her, and you might find yourself with some chills as she belts it out. With that being said, she never loses the kindness and quirkiness that is central to her character.
Additionally, Michael Limone successfully makes audiences cheer for his demise as the predatory, sexist Franklin Hart Jr. without playing the character over the top, but his sound and smooth vocals still stand out. Emily Llewelyn hits it out of the park as Roz Keith, the stuck-up secretary who is secretly obsessed with Hart. She hilariously volleys between a Roz-from-Monsters Inc.-esque, irritating roadblock for the three heroines, and a victim of unrequited love with the potential to be quite sultry and fragile behind closed doors. In just a few lines of dialogue, Katelyn Murray has audience members howling with laughter as the office drunk, Margaret, stumbling across the stage and uttering brief incoherent quips.
The ensemble for this show with direction by Mary Caulfield, music direction by Matthew W. Surico, and choreography by Kevin Burns, complemented the show nicely with an added layer of energy and even chaos. The costuming by Ronald R. Green III, and set design by Anthony Arpino, Brendan Noble, and Caulfield successfully transport audiences back to the late 1970s from the details of the furniture to the hats and wigs. Caulfield not only achieved brilliant casting, but she also seems to have built a trust and closeness with her cast members that allows them to play freely on the stage, bounce off of one another and the audience, and make the production larger than life.
And of course, you can’t pass up the opportunity to have Dolly herself pop up on a screen high above the stage to kick off and close the show.