Theater review: '9 to 5' cast works overtime to entertain

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 22 2012 2:00 p.m. MDT

Angela Jeffries stars as Judy Bernly, Sharon Kension as Violet Newstead and Madeline Weinberger as Doralee Rhodes in the musical adaptation of "9 to 5" at the Hale Centre Theatre.

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“9 to 5: the Musical,” Hale Centre Theatre, through Sept. 29, with evening performances at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday matinees at 12:30 p.m. and 4 p.m., $24-$15, 801-984-9000 or halecentretheatre.org

WEST VALLEY CITY — Love Dolly Parton, love her musical.

The presence of the popular country music entertainer hangs over the stage adaptation of “9 to 5” — quite literally. Video monitors descend from above the Hale Centre Theatre stage for Dolly, using her familiar Tennessee hillbilly twang, to personally introduce the show she helped conceive and write.

The musical version of “9 to 5” is jam-packed (overly, as some critics have justifiably argued) with ditties Dolly wrote for the 2009 Broadway show to accompany the original title song for the 1980 film. While the additional 15 (yes, count ’em) songs follow Dolly’s rockabilly style and are exuberantly sincere, none is as memorable, or approach the catchy zest, of the tune that became a country/pop classic.

And with Madeline Weinberger, Hale Centre has cast an impressive singer-actress to portray on stage the Doralee Rhodes character that Dolly created in the movie. Weinberger doesn’t impersonate Dolly's cupie doll persona, but she is the spark-plug energy for the production. Weinberger is a sassy, unsinkable Doralee, who, with her two women officemates, kidnap their “autocratic, sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical” boss to improve the man-dominated work environment of Consolidated Industries in 1979 Los Angeles.

Weinberger's “9 to 5” coconspirators — Sharon Kension as Violet Newstead, the role created on film by Lily Tomlin, and Angela Jeffries as Judy Bernly, the Jane Fonda character — work overtime to entertain. The three actresses “shine like the sun,” to quote a generic Dolly lyric, and are perfectly suited to play the roles. In fact, they blast the roof off the theater with powerful ballads: Weinberger in a heartfelt rendition of “Backwoods Barbie,” Kenison in the high-stepping “One of the Boys” and Jeffries in “Get Out and Stay Out” (a fine 11 o’clock number that would have more impact were the audience not so nearly worn out by then).

The exceptional stagecraft, overseen by skilled director John Sweeney, pleases Hale Centre audiences. Like in the film, Doralee, Violet and Judy have individual fantasy sequences in which the trio seeks revenge on their boss, Franklin Hart Jr. (David Glaittli). In Doralee’s scene, Hart is pulled behind a pickup truck that enters the stage; in Violet’s, he is consumed by a roaring dragon; and Judy, in the guise of a gangster’s moll, shoots her tormentor with a pistol she hides in her garter.

Not content with the three strong women’s roles, Dolly expanded the film's Roz Keith character, Hart’s overeager assistant. Booklynn Pulver makes the part her own and, with her single-minded zeal, is able to craft “Heart to Hart” into a tremendously funny showstopping solo. But every time Pulver is on stage, audiences adore her gleeful characterization of the love-sick wallflower.

With no thought toward advancing musical theater, Dolly has made “9 to 5” an enjoyable romp. At the Hale Centre production, in the lead players’ capable hands, the show becomes what the songwriter intended: a lovably goofy office-workplace sitcom set to Dolly's signature music.

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