The cast of ‘9 to 5 the Musical’ at Firehouse Theatre. (Photo by Jason Anderson/Pendleton Studios)

On opening night last Friday, Firehouse Theatre in Farmers Brnach was filled with spirited  enthusiasm which made for a palpable buzz throughout the lobby and theater. That energy added to the upbeat vibes of 9 to 5 the Musical when the curtain opened and Dolly Parton spoke from a recording introducing the show. She not only starred in the 1980 film with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, but she penned the music and lyrics for this show with the book by Patricia Resnick. With her spunky and smart songwriting and a cast feeding off the audience’s excitement, the production delivered happy energy that was infectious and joyous. 

Although still set in the 80s, the revenge comedy was updated from the film with Parton’s songs and a script that works smarter than the movie’s dated ideals. At the essence though, Resnick stuck to her original movie script by keeping the story centered on three secretaries, Violet, Doralee and Judy, who are overlooked, overworked and underappreciated in their professional lives. They join forces to fight workplace discrimination by dealing with their misogynistic boss. That may sound like a heavy plot, but the show’s humor was abundantly punctuated by peppy and sentimental songs. 

The story was fairly simple and in many ways lowbrow loaded with heavy innuendo and brazen sexuality which delivered big laughs – particularly Lisette Sandoval Perez’s longing “Heart to Hart” number as executive assistant Roz pined for her boss or Preston Isham’s very horny “Here for You” as said boss Franklin Hart. Both actors succeeded in their extremes.

Perez was almost fanatical as the devoted Roz serving as a spy for the workplace and her loyalty to Hart, but she never played crazy. She went all the way up to that line and pulled back to not be a full caricature. In some ways, her role would be a thankless one but her explosive performance should not be slept on. Isham had the fun of simply being a creepy jerk and his wink-and-nod performance made his Hart even more egregious. His performance hit all the right a-hole notes – in the best way.

Lucas Haupert played the junior accountant Joe who has a thing for Violet but also sides with the women in their crusade. Haupert’s acting was something beyond. The role doesn’t call for much detail, but he infused a big heart into the character that was easy to root for. 

However, the three leading ladies were standouts that lifted the show into something more. 

Rikki Sushaun’s Violet was the de facto leader of the three. She was matriarchal to the ladies (and really the entire office ensemble) but also a bit beaten down by being passed over for promotions by men she trained and serving as a single mother. Sushaun wrapped all those layers into a lovely performance.

Molly Robinson played Judy, a woman who has never worked and found herself needing to do so after her marriage ended. The role itself was perhaps the least flashy of the three, but Robinson built her meek character into a force as Judy began to embrace her confidence. She was no slouch either when it came to belting a number, most notably “Get Out and Stay Out.” 

How do you play Dolly Parton without being Dolly Parton? Caitlin Martelle could give a masterclass in that. Without ignoring Parton’s look and demeanor, Martelle made Doralee very much her own. Never did it feel like we were watching a mimic, but instead, perhaps an homage. The big blond hair and Southern belle air was prominent, but Martelle brought a distinct heart to the role that felt authentic. 

When these three actors were all together, it was fire. Understudies for the show included Amy Parsons, Krystal Rodriguez, Tucker Sother, Garrett Holton and Kelsey Jordan Ward as ensemble swing.

The set by Logan Uhtenwoldt and Maggie Sproul was a clever and somewhat-mod design that sort of recalled a more ’70s feel, but nonetheless fed into the ebullient air of the musical. Dayna Dutton’s costuming felt appropriate to the ’80s but also veered a bit into ’70s feels. Whatever the case, it all worked toward the show’s good vibes. Maybe, like the movie, the musical was just coming out of that previous decade. One actor in a flouncy top (or maybe Seinfeld-esque puffy shirt) was a bit unclear and distracting as office wear, but small beans. 

Director Ally Beans led a strong cast from leads to ensemble who all delivered strong dancing and singing in a show that was paced well with humor and sentimentality. 

 The show runs through April 21.

–Rich Lopez