9 to 5: The Musical is a funny, quirky tale of girl power and ultimately women’s rights. Originally written as a movie in 1979, it starred Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton, who wrote the original theme song. The movie was also a star vehicle for Parton, already known to the country music scene, launching her into mainstream culture. 9 to 5 would have its pre-Broadway run at the center’s Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles beginning September 21, 2008, with Allison Janney starring as Violet, joined by Stephanie J. Block as Judy, Megan Hilty as Doralee, and Marc Kudisch as their boss, Franklin Hart Jr. The book for 9 to 5: The Musical was written by Patricia Resnick, who co-authored the film.
The George Mason University School of Theater cast recreates the opening musical number with the typewriter sound used in the film’s theme song, “9 to 5,” written and recorded by Parton. While filming the 9 to 5 movie, Parton found she could use her long acrylic fingernails to simulate the sound of a typewriter. The audience even gets to experience the buzzing sound of the digital alarm clock, thanks to Props Designers Luke Rahman and Marty Bernier.
Scenic Designer Jonathan Dahm Robertson transformed the stage into looking like the “old school” workplace, with the desks, partitions, telephones — the ones with the wall cords — and even typewriters and a primitive-looking copy machine. Hart’s office looks like the executive — with a wooden desk and even his portrait hanging in the corner. Lighting Designer Maddie Southard provided overhead lighting that mimicked the fluorescent lighting in probably every old government building in DC. Welcome to 1979, where the clothes were pretty bad, and the hair was awful. Costume Designer Jeremy Pritchard did well overall with recreating the late-1970s and early-’80s look. The one anachronism was the hairstyles for the male ensemble — many of them had long hair, and that simply would not have been tolerated in the decade; back then, an office job meant you had to look clean-cut. However, it was easy enough to overlook.
This ensemble, under the direction of Rex Daugherty, was really strong. They had great vocals and energy, and the dance numbers choreographed by Ariel Kraje were terrific. Set changes were smooth and easy. As a former college musician and ongoing pit musician, I was excited when Music Director Joe Walsh put together an outstanding professional-sounding band. Too often that is not the case for college shows. Walsh also conducted and played keys on the show.
The three working women who live out their fantasies of getting even with and overthrowing the company’s autocratic, “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” boss are, in a word, superb. The chemistry between the three women is very good. Emma Harris is funny and bright as Violet Newstead, and she puts herself on the musical map with “One of the Boys” — not to mention, her acting is spot on. Sarah Stewart blew the audience away with her rendition of “Get Out and Stay Out,” in which her character, Judy Bernly, finally gains her independence and confidence without needing her ex-husband. And, Kamy Satterfield is lovely and equally funny as Doralee Rhodes.
Unfortunately, Aiden Brenerman-Pennas’ portrayal of Franklin Hart Jr. fell short. While Hart is supposed to be a sleazeball, his gyrating and rubbing his pants was really overdone in a way that distracted from his performance instead of being funny. The script is not without its awkward moments. While the character of Joe the accountant was written to attempt to help find evidence for Hart’s financial corruption, Joe as Violet’s potential love interest seemed superfluous, although through no fault of the actor, Brett Womack.
The concept of three women struggling to get ahead and stay afloat in a male-dominated workforce isn’t exactly new, but hopefully, things have come a long way in breaking the glass ceiling when it comes to equality in the workplace. Maybe before its time, the office antics of 9 to 5 at the George Mason School of Theater will leave you humming and smiling, and maybe thinking that we’ve made some definite cracks.
Running Time: Two hours with a 15-minute intermission.
9 to 5: The Musical plays October 27 and 28, 2023, at 8 p.m. and October 29 at 2 p.m., presented by the George Mason University’s School of Theater and the Mason Players performing in the Holbert L. Harris Theatre on the Fairfax Campus, 4471 Aquia Creek Lane, Fairfax, VA. Tickets (general admission, $35; students and seniors, $15) can be purchased online, by calling 703-993-2787, or by email at [email protected]. The Center for the Arts Ticket Office is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and two hours prior to ticketed events in the Center for the Arts Concert Hall.