Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

9 to 5
Stages St. Louis
Review by Richard T. Green


Summerisa Bell Stevens, Corinne Melançon,
and Laura E. Taylor

Photo by Peter Wochniak
It's hard to watch as the carefree memories of one's youth drift away into lifeless operetta, but here we are. Sure, 9 to 5, the 1980 movie, wasn't all that great to begin with. But it had great casting: Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dolly Parton as three career gals dodging a crooked, lecherous boss, and dreaming of better days.

Twenty-nine years later, Dolly Parton wrote the sighing, derivative score to a new musicalization, which features doodling melodies and lyrics that almost never rise above the level of third-rate motivational speakers. Patricia Resnick wrote the libretto—a book devoid of enhanced character, or subplot or complication, or much of anything beyond what you may remember from the not-that-great plot of the movie. The musical version is simply "product" for the busywork of an entertainment economy.

The 2009 Broadway staging of 9 to 5 ran for 24 previews and 148 regular performances, and got a record number of Drama Desk nominations, and four Tony nominations, too. However, the genuinely inspiring Billy Elliot was the big winner that year, followed by the daring and original Next to Normal as a distant second among winners at the 63rd annual Tony Awards show. 9 to 5 was shut out, though Allison Janney did win a Drama Desk award for the role of Violet (the Lily Tomlin character).

But Stages St. Louis can afford plenty of fine artists, to make any show at least look good. The problem is the brains behind it all: the authors have given us a poor excuse for a show; director Michael Hamilton passes it off as kitsch; and choreographer Dana Lewis is just punching the clock. As a result, this 9 to 5 only fleetingly transcends the level of dinner theater.

The show does, however, do something relatively unheard of at Stages, something that may even be considered revolutionary: it cusses now and then. And while that may not seem like a striking innovation to you, it does open the door for future Stages audiences, to peer into the "dangerous new world" of Stephen Sondheim and others who might shock the conscience of the average elderly visitor from Kirkwood, Des Peres, or Chesterfield, and challenge their understanding of the world. Maybe Stages is sticking its toe in hot water, with the four letter words here.

Till that lucky day, Summerisa Bell Stevens does a very nicely self-aware impersonation of Ms. Parton as Doralee Rhodes—watch for her stunning back-flips across the stage. But Corinne Melançon is miscast, giving us an unfunny version of Violet, whose ragged sense of desperation propelled much of the movie. And, for better or worse, Laura E. Taylor is indefatigable as the endlessly dithering Jane Fonda character, Judy Bernly.

Joe Cassidy is fine as their evil boss Franklin Hart, Jr., played by Dabney Coleman in the movie, and of course he resembles Mr. Coleman, too (because that's the point). But he's required to perform a number that seems to borrow musical progressions and character bits directly from The Rocky Horror Show, in "Here for You." And elsewhere in the approximately two-and-a-half hour show, Ms. Melançon has to perform a rip-off of the big "Roxie" number from act one of Chicago in this show's "One of the Boys." If the rest of the music and lyrics were stronger, you might call these two infractions "tributes."

On the plus side of the ledger, I did make a note to congratulate costume chief Brad Musgrove for his team's absolute authenticity in constructing a blue, fur-trimmed coat for Ms. Stevens, just like the one Dolly Parton wore in the film, with maybe even a little shimmer in the finish of the fabric.

But why go to all that trouble, Mr. Musgrove, to so flawlessly, lovingly recreate Doralee's fur-trimmed, powder-blue coat, or Violet's jazzy smock, or Judy's ridiculously large hat (and those 1980-ish dark plaid midi-skirts for the women's chorus!) for this theatrical fibrillation? Clearly your costume shop has put more thought and effort into all this, to make the production look so good, than anyone else. And all that amazing attention to detail only makes the rest of the show look shabby by comparison.

Through August 20, 2017, at the Robert G. Reim Theatre, 111 South Geyer Rd. For more information visit www.stagesstlouis.org.

The Cast (in order of appearance):
Violet Newstead: Corinne Melançon*
Josh: Jacob Flekier
Doralee Rhodes: Summerisa Bell Stevens*
Dwayne: Brent Michael Diroma*
Judy Bernly: Laura E. Taylor*
Dick Bernly: Steve Isom*
Mindi: Claire Logan
Roz Keith: Kari Ely*
Kathy: Kendra Lynn Lucas*
Maria: Dena Digiacinto*
Anita: Paula Landry
Daphne: Brittany Rose Hammond*
Felicity: Ellen Isom*
Franklin Hart, Jr.: Joe Cassidy*
Missy Hart: Leah Berry*
Joe: Jason Michael Evans*
Margaret: Zoe Vonder Haar*
Bob Enright: Drew Humphrey*
Boys Club: Matthew Alexander, Brad Frenette*, Chris McNiff*, Hamilton Moore, Nic Thompson*
Detective: John Flack*
Candy Striper: Paula Landry
Tinsworthy: John Flack*
Executives and Secretaries: Matthew Alexander, Leah Berry*, Dena Digiacinto*, Brent Michael Diroma*, Jason Michael Evans*, John Flack*, Brad Frenette*, Brittany Rose Hammond*, Ellen Isom*, Steve Isom*, Paula Landry, Claire Logan, Kendra Lynn Lucas*, Chris McNiff*, Hamilton Moore, Nic Thompson*

Production Credits
Director/Musical Staging: Michael Hamilton
Choreography: Dana Lewis
Scenic Design: James Wolk
Costume Design: Brad Musgrove
Lighting Design: Sean M. Savoie
Musical Direction: Lisa Campbell Albert
Stage Manager: Shawn Pryby*
Orchestral Design: Stuart M. Elmore
New York Casting: Wojcik/Seay Casting

* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association


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