BY SAM DESMOND
The CM Performing Arts Center held its opening night of the second show in its 50th season with Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5,” a musical to celebrate the working girl and eviscerate the barriers put on her.
Director Mary Caulfield employed a realistic, but humorous and buoyant, brand of feminism, which all three leads, Violet (Emily Nadler), Doralee (Livi Rose), and Judy (Jess Ader-Ferretti) dished out as triumvirate of redeemed, dismissed women in the workplace.
Bruce Coughlin’s orchestra initiated and kept up the high energy of the musical with its crescendoing opening number.
But even in the ballads, most notably Judy’s solo in “Get Out and Stay Out,” towards the end of the second act, the instrumentation is so delicate and profound that the audience felt transported to the place of hurt and healing that covered Judy’s story arc.
Ader-Ferretti as Judy played a complicated role, from mousy and apologetic to commanding and stalwart, beautifully, as her subtle affectations and even singing style reflected the inner turmoil of her character.
With a set of brass ones, Nadler’s Violet was paradoxically maternal as mother hen of the steno pool and girlish in her blossoming love affair with a younger man. Nadler’s delivery of the line, “You’re still in your 30s?!” was so pointedly comedic that there was a noticeable pause for the action to move along in the scene from the audience’s laughter.
And of course, the Dolly Parton’s character of Doralee, too curvaceous to be taken seriously and too sweet for her predators to realize she’s packing, was played to perfection by Rose.
Taking on Parton’s Southern drawl could easily be caricatured and overdone, but Rose managed to draw inspiration from Parton’s grand persona and remarkably create a character of her own from the well-known source material. Her physical comedy in scenes with Franklin Hart Jr. (played to be hysterically maddening with SDE by Michael Limone) are blocked with such precision and fluency that you could actually laugh at the clumsy sexual assault.
Villains in “9 to 5” are also lovable, in their own maladaptive ways, and Limone’s Hart and Emily Llewellyn’s Roz are soap opera bad guys that bring in the laughs.
Limone’s lechery with Rose’s Doralee is peak cringe, but so delightfully outdated in office politics that it’s almost like watching “Mad Men,” but with a laugh reel.
Steffy Jolin, with a minor part as Kathy, just couldn’t help but move the eyes and attention to her with well-placed and well-executed one-liners. In addition, Jolin’s wardrobe choice—a vintage-looking office dress that definitely would’ve fetched a good price at Poshmark—was on the mark, and costume designer Ronald R. Green III proved once again how probing his aesthetic eye is to rounding out a stage.
The pre-recorded Dolly Parton introductions were a bit of a letdown, but likely due to the parameters of the licensing of the show.
Had she been permitted to, a portrayal by Rose of Parton in the intro would have been more congruent to the show’s unfolding.
Lighting designer Christopher Creevy showed his prowess with the dimly lit scenes of marijuana smoking and Roz’s ensemble number that created a jazz ambiance to contrast with the bright, Technicolor vibe of the rest of the show.
Whether you’ve seen the classic 1980 original film version of this movie, CMPAC’s production will be a new, nuanced interpretation with plenty of laughs and nostalgia for the days before work-from-home culture.