‘9 to 5: The Musical’ at Port Tobacco Players is a foot-stomping good time

With catchy music, funny lyrics, and talented actors, this Dolly Parton musical about women's equality in the workplace is hilarious and thought-provoking.

Sometimes you need an escape — to another time, to another place. Set in 1979, 9 to 5: The Musical follows three unlikely friends who take control of their workplace and prove that they can change things for the better, even in a male-dominated company. It is a hilarious and thought-provoking musical about friendship, equal opportunity, workplace harassment, and personal development. This exciting show features Dolly Parton’s music and lyrics and a book by Patricia Resnick.

Director Bill Smolter has guided amazing performances that will leave audiences with good moods and smiling faces. The music, dance moves, and projection design (which featured footage of Parton) make this musical a crowd-pleasing winner. ​Music Director Dan Romagno, Choreographer Kaitlin Branham, and Projections Designer Jason Klonkowski were top-notch.

Becky Norris Kuhn, Sarah Gravelle, and Tara Waters in ‘9 to 5: The Musical.’ Photo by Connie Murphy.

The villain of this show has to be comedically over the top. He has to be hateable. He has got to be nasty. Kyle Rappe, wearing a horrid toupée (thanks to Hair and Wig Designer Quentin Nash Sagers), was impressive as Franklin Hart Jr., President of Consolidated Industries. The audience enjoyed every minute of hating him.

Repeatedly, Hart was described as a “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot.” As he bullied and threatened the main three characters, Violet Newstead (Sarah Gravelle), Judy Bernly (Becky Norris), and Doralee Rhodes (Tara Waters), Rappe/Hart was the object of the audience’s ire.

Waters was delightful in her scenes as Doralee. Hart was harassing her character sexually. He spread affair rumors about her, making her an office pariah. Played by Parton in the movie version, the character had a country-and-western vibe, which Waters pulled off in the tune “Backwoods Barbie.” She imagined all the terrible things she would do to get even with Hart in “Cowgirl’s Revenge.”

Gravelle brought warmth to her role as Violet, a supervisor. She piped out “Let Love Grow“ in a duet with Bradley Evans, who played her love interest, Joe, an accountant. Her singing was wonderful. She made her poisonous feelings clear about Mr. Hart in “Potion Notion.”

Norris, as Consolidated Industries newbie Judy, impressed in tunes such as “Get Out and Stay Out” and the titular “9 to 5.” I liked the vulnerability she brought to the role. She played out her fantasies about Mr. Hart in “The Dance of Death.”

The aforementioned revenge fantasy songs bring to mind Smolter’s director’s note:

“9 to 5 the Musical,” though set in 1979, provides a medium for the Port Tobacco Players to encourage the community to question what more we can do to bridge the pay gap, improve equity and equality in the workplace, and to open a forum to keep talking about these issues!

The always excellent Tobacco Players regular Tessa N. Silvestro made me laugh as Hart’s devoted sidekick, Roz Keith. Roz secretly pined for Hart and spied on Violet, Judy, and Doralee for him. Silvestro was great as the lead in Port Tobacco’s Hello, Dolly!

Demetri “Meech” Black played Judy’s no-good ex-husband, Dick. He had a good scene with Norris in which he tried to reunite with her. Other standouts were Mary DeMarco-Logue as Maria, an office worker with a drinking problem. Seth Lohr had a short but effective scene as a detective. Ensemble member Jing Xi Qin was everywhere.

TOP: Demetri Black, Jing Xi Qin, Isaiah Wilson, Tara Waters, Seth Lohr, Kyle Rappe, Aidan C. Davis, Bradley Evans, and Joshua Smith; ABOVE: Jing Xi Qin, Bradley Evans, Anneliza Yarbrough, Sarah Gravelle, Liza Arnold, Christina Murphy, Isaiah Wilson, and Demetri Black in ‘9 to 5: The Musical.’ Photos by Connie Murphy.

The set design was somewhat minimalist. Hart’s office was a set piece, flown up and down as needed. Other scenes were set by scenery wagons. I didn’t like the would-be “Xerox machine,” which looked like a box painted white. The secretary desks were just — desks.

I liked the clock motif that surrounded the outer wings of the stage. Each clock had a different time between 9 and 5 pm. The most impressive part of Chip Murphy and Nick Summers’ design was the upstage elevator doors, which closed on cue.

Bri Corley made the set look like it was set in 1979. The set decoration featured office tools of the period. However, the prop gun looked too much like a water pistol. I liked the cheesy portrait of Hart. It was both terrible and funny.

Janice Nash Sager and Carol Russell’s costume designs evoked the 1970s well. The ladies and gentlemen looked businesslike. Roz’s dresses reminded me of ’70s sitcoms.

“At its core, 9 to 5 is about female empowerment, positivity, strength, truth, teamwork, compassion, love, women supporting women, and family,” wrote Smolter. With catchy music, funny lyrics, and talented actors, this show will take you out of your troubles for a foot-stomping good time.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.

9 to 5: The Musical plays through March 24, 2024, at Port Tobacco Players, 508 Charles Street, La Plata, MD. Tickets ($17–$20) can be purchased online.

COVID Safety: For all performances, masks are suggested but not required.

9 to 5: The Musical
​Book by Patricia Resnick
Music and Lyrics by Dolly Parton

Violet Newstead: Sarah Gravelle
Doralee Rhodes: Tara Waters
Judy Bernly: Becky Norris-Kuhn
Franklin Hart, Jr.: Kyle Rappe
Roz Keith: Tessa N. Silvestro
Joe: Bradley Evans
Dwayne: Isaiah Wilson
Josh: Joshua Smith
Miss: Christina Murphy
Maria: Mary DeMarco-Logue
Dick: Demetri “Meech” Black
Kathy: Amanda Hastings
Margaret: Katie Sheldon
Tinsworthy: Aidan C. Davis
Ensemble: Liza Arnold, Seth Lohr, Anneliza Yarbrough

Director: Bill Smolter
​Music Director: Dan Romagno
Choreographer: Kaitlin Branham
Projections Design: Jason Klonkowski
Costume Designers: Carol Russell and Janice Nash Sagers
Set Design: Chip Murphy and Nick Summers
Properties Design/Set Decoration: Bri Corley
Hair & Wig Design/Makeup Assistant: Quentin Nash Sagers


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