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PTC’s ‘9 to 5: The Musical’ gets down to business

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PTC’s ‘9 to 5: The Musical’ gets down to business (All photos courtesy Penobscot Theatre Company/Bill Kuykendall)

BANGOR – Song-filled spectacle is once again gracing the stage at the Bangor Opera House this summer. It’s a lovely escape … even if it does involve punching the clock.

Penobscot Theatre Company’s latest production is “9 to 5: The Musical,” directed and choreographed by Ethan Paulini with music direction by Phil Burns. The show – with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton and book by Patricia Resnick – is based on the 1980 film “9 to 5.”

This show marks PTC’s return to the splashy summer shows that usually mark this stretch of the calendar after a two-year hiatus. It is a big, broad musical comedy – one that offers a lot of toe-tapping tunes to go with its charming period setting and its surprisingly subversive ideological underpinnings. Marked by an energetic ensemble, some dynamic lead performances and typically strong production values, the show offers audiences a heck of a good time.

Working for a living is tough – especially for a woman. That’s as true at Consolidated Industries as anywhere else. Violet (Heather Astbury-Libby) is a longtime employee who has spent much of her career being passed over for promotion by men less capable and qualified than herself. It’s frustrating, to be sure, but she still takes pride in her work.

Among her many responsibilities is training new hires – and the latest is as new as they come. Judy (Laura Hodos) isn’t just new to Consolidated, she’s new to jobs, period; her husband ran off with his secretary and now she has to enter the workforce after years as a homemaker. Violet recognizes the challenge in front of her, but is more than willing to help Judy find her way.

Meanwhile, the president of Consolidated – Franklin Hart, Jr. (Kyle Munson) – is a sexist, misogynist jerk, one who spends more time ogling his personal secretary Doralee (Christie Robinson) than he does doing any actual work. Doralee is a spitfire who is well aware of who her boss is and how he thinks of her, but like her peers, she needs the job (though abundant rumors about her relationship with Hart have made her a bit of a pariah around the office).

Soon, the situation reaches a boiling point. Violet is passed over for promotion yet again. Judy finds herself questioning her value as not just an employee, but a person. And Doralee finds out about the rumors that Hart himself has spread about his relationship with her. The three women are united in their utter disdain and disgust for the guy in charge – a feeling shared by many of the women in the office, the primary exception being Roz (Janelle A. Robinson), whose misguided affection for the boss leads her to become the office informant.

Seemingly at the end of their respective ropes, the women band together and start searching for a solution. And one presents itself, albeit one that puts them all in a rather precarious position. Through inadvertent (and illegal) chicanery, they find themselves secretly running the show. So what can they do to make sure that their working lives – and the working lives of their fellow women – improve? And how long can they hold out before the consequences of their actions bring the whole thing tumbling down?

“9 to 5: The Musical” is the story of what it means to take control of your own life, of forcing those who would otherwise refuse to recognize your value. It is large and lighthearted, even as it brings the battle for workplace equality to the forefront. Bold and bright and deceptively smart, it celebrates the inner strength of a trio of women who, when pushed to the brink, choose to take matters into their own hands.

Paulini endows the production with a constant kineticism that never tips over into the frenetic. His direction empowers the central trio while also leaving room for others to shine; he always finds ways to deliver small moments that engage with and accentuate the larger, powerhouse set pieces. As a choreographer, he deftly navigates the many moving parts present in such a populous ensemble; his steady hand leads to the maintenance of motion throughout, from all-cast dance numbers to integrated set changes and everything in between.

Oh, and the music is on point. Music director Burns – whose piano also leads the band (Tom Libby on percussion, Matt Donovan on guitar, Zahavah Winters on bass and James C. Winters on horns) – does great work in laying down a foundation on which the cast can build its collection of toe-tapping tuneage. From ballads to bangers, the band handles their business throughout to great effect.

(Personal highlights include the titular tune, of course, as well as Robinson on “Backwoods Barbie,” Astbury-Libby on “One of the Boys,” Hodos on “Get Out and Stay Out” and Munson on “Here for You,” as well as Robinson on “Heart to Hart” – we’ll get to that last one in a moment.)

Let’s talk about that cast, shall we? Anyone familiar with PTC’s musical offerings over the years already has a sense of what Heather Astbury-Libby, Christie Robinson and Laura Hodos bring to the table; all three have delivered scorching performances on this stage. The trend continues here. Astbury-Libby combines powerhouse vocals with an inherent understanding of pathos, projecting a character both confident and vulnerable. Robinson evokes the queen herself, Dolly Parton, in her performance; her musical moments are excellent, but it is the sassy bounce in her step that really shines. Hers is a winking turn in the best way, mining laughs from a tilt of the head or a shimmy of the hips. And Hodos offers us the greatest journey of them all, moving from mousy uncertain beginnings to an easy self-assurance. She leans into wide-eyed naivete like few performers can, taking full advantage.

Kyle Munson is so slimy as Hart that he practically oozes, a veritable personification of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. The result is definitely what you want from a musical villain – the guy you love to hate. The ensemble is packed with youthful energy. Danielle Barrett, Robert Brangwynne, Nicholas Cabral, Jarius Cliett, Stephanie Erb, Kate Fogg, Marianne Grossmann, Josh Worster and Michelle Zink-Munoz are a fast-moving bunch – Cabral and Erb are highlights, but all find moments to shine.

Special note should be made of Janelle Robinson, who absolutely SLAYS as Roz. It is a powerhouse performance that blows the roof off the place more than once. Her turn on “Heart to Hart” is a legitimate showstopper. She’s straight-up dynamite.

Speaking of dynamite – the production design is once again exceptional. From the bold colors of Tricia Hobbs’s scenic design (check out that pushpin!) to Scout Hough’s always compelling lighting work, it’s a visual extravaganza. Quality work from sound designer Neil Graham and props designer Nellie Kelly as well. Oh, and let’s give it up to the design team of Kevin Koski (costumes) and Grace Wylie (hair and makeup); the show’s period setting is incredibly important and these two absolutely crush it in terms of capturing that vibe. Everyone on that stage looks the part – kudos to the folks who made it so. Kudos to all, in fact – another win for PTC’s production team.

“9 to 5: The Musical” is a welcome return to the broad boldness of the summer spectacle for PTC. What a way to make a living indeed.

(For tickets or more information about “9 to 5: The Musical,” visit the Penobscot Theatre website at www.penobscotthetre.org or contact the box office at 942-3333.)

Last modified on Tuesday, 28 June 2022 12:04

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