Stage Review: Playhouse’s ‘9 to 5’ Is Good Exit to Season 99

By J.E. Ballantyne Jr.
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — When I first knew I would be reviewing “9 to 5,” the musical, at the Youngstown Playhouse, I was not particularly thrilled. Unlike most people, I have never liked the film (on which the musical is based); I always found it unfunny, tedious, and quite contrived.

There is something, however, about adapting a movie into a stage musical that brings new, unimagined life to the piece. This seems to be what happened with the musical version of “9 to 5” that opened Friday night at the Playhouse and is the grand finale to season No. 99.

With music and lyrics by Dolly Parton and direction by Connor Bezeredi, “9 to 5” literally explodes off the Playhouse stage. A strong cast and lively and creative choreography power this production from start to finish.

The plot line for the stage version is the same as the film. The action takes place at Consolidated Industries, where employees, especially women, are subject to numerous types of unsavory behavior by CEO Franklin Hart. Only when Violet, along with two co-workers, take matters into their own hands, do things drastically change.

Jackie Collins heads the cast as Violet. Strong, determined and with a drive to succeed as a woman on her own terms, she makes Violet the cause around which all of the office employees rally. Collins gives a gutsy performance along with strong vocals to back it up. She is a standout in “Around Here” as she educates office newbie, Judy, about surviving at the company. Her other strong vocal moments come with “I Just Might” and “One of the Boys.” This is Collins’s show and she makes the most of every inch of it.

New employee, Judy, played by Hannah Sinclair gives the most multifaceted performance of the evening. Judy’s initial appearance is as the shy “new kid on the block” at the office on her first day. With things going wrong and being admonished by Hart, Judy eventually starts to catch on with the help of her new friends. Sinclair handles the role well and makes the change in Judy gradually enough to be believable. With a strong belty voice, Sinclair transforms Judy into a femme fatale in “The Dance of Death” and almost stops the show in Act II with a riveting rendition of “Get Out and Stay Out.” Vocally, she gives Collins a real run for her money.

The third member of the trio, Doralee, played by Kath Steeb, has most of the comedy of the three ladies and she handles it well. Doralee is the subject of most of the harassment from Hart and their scenes together work well. Steeb is great with the one line zingers and has a great sense of comedy timing. She also delivers vocally with “I Just Might” and “Backwoods Barbie.”

Kage Coven takes on the role of Franklin Hart. Hart is the role that everyone in the audience loves to hate. And Coven’s performance gives the audience a great reason to feel that way. He gives Hart a smarmy, lecherous quality as he oozes his way around the stage. It is hard to feel bad about this guy when he gets his due. He also has the ability to smoothly shift gears with Hart, which makes the character even more reprehensible.

Supporting roles also impress with Edward Bazzell as Joe, David Leach as Dwayne, and Jaye Mills as Dick.

A musical needs a strong ensemble and “9 to 5” has a superb ensemble. Although the Act I opening number, “9 to 5” was a little sluggish at the start it ended up strong and added a great punch for the rest of the show to take off on. Musical director Tyler Stouffer did his job well.

Director Connor Bezeredi has put a first rate cast on the Playhouse stage. Well rehearsed, well directed and with scene changes that were incredibly choreographed and fast. Slow scene changes in this show can easily add tons of time to a production.

Set design by Leslie Brown, Isa Foltz, and Johnny Pecano were ingenious. Three multisided set pieces along with numerous pieces from left and right made scene changes seamless. Ellen Licitra’s lighting design added focus, depth and color along with creative gobos here and there. And kudos to follow spot operators who were on target on all of their hits so as not to chase actors around the stage.

Choreography by Joanna Andrei was well done and added a great professional feel to the production. Costumes by Sam Mentzer were right for the period and added color and splash.

One last note is to congratulate the Youngstown Playhouse for finally kicking the canned music out the door for this production and having a live band. It sounded good and didn’t overpower actors on stage. Plus, that live music sound has been added back into a musical. About time!

“9 to 5” is a fun-filled, rollicking musical. It is a great way to spend a couple of hours to help usher out season 99 and get ready for season 100. If you liked the film,or even if you didn’t, you will love this show!

“9 to 5” continues June 8, 14, 15 at 7:30 pm June 9, 16 at 2:30 p.m.

Pictured at top: Kath Steeb plays Doralee in The Youngstown Playhouse’s production of “9 to 5.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.