When the movie 9-5 originally came out in 1979, it was revolutionary. It depicted with humor and insight the maddening task that working women faced at that time, trying to do their jobs while getting paid less, being disrespected, and also facing sexual harassment. Dolly Parton’s iconic song of the same title, which was an instant classic, is a lament every person who works can relate to feeling like you’re wasting your life on the job and being exploited for your boss’s benefit with nothing to show for it.
The RHS New Players Company production of 9-5: The Musical took that musical aspect even further, venting workday frustrations we all deal with into a spectacular explosion of a show. The opening number, an updated version of Parton’s iconic song, showcased the incredible energy and enthusiasm of the cast as well as their funky early 80s costumes and perfectly dreary office set.
The incredible talent of the cast only became more apparent as the show went on. As one audience member I interviewed said “If you told me that was a professional production, I would believe you.” Another audience member said: “The live music, with the orchestra right there and the amazing singing, was stunning!” It wasn’t just the voices of the cast members that made the show, it was also their acting. Raymond Ocasio and Charlotte Rivera had a winning combination of comedic timing and sheer chutzpah that made their hilarious and over-the-top villains just as much fun to watch as the heroes.
At the end of the day, however, the three women at the center of the story were played so well that you couldn’t help rooting for them. Grace DeAngelis as Violet Newstead was ambitious, likable, and delightfully deadpan, which made her funny moments even funnier. My favorite song of hers was the bitingly sarcastic warning song “Around Here”, which introduces the oppressive working culture of the office. Catherine Desciak was an unexpectedly convincing Dolly Parton, her on-point Southern accent, giant hair, and spectacular voice brought Dolly’s unique warmth and presence to the production. She really shone in her song, “Backwoods Barbie” about how she is more than just her glammed-up appearance. Margot Jerkovich’s Judy Bernly managed to convey both heartrending awkwardness and later, the hard-earned self-confidence displayed in her song “Get Out & Stay Out”.
It wasn’t just the leads that made the show so great to watch, it was also the ensemble and smaller parts, such as the eventually reformed alcoholic Margaret and the donut-eating cop, which added constant levity to the production.
The musical combined killer comedy, choreography, emotion, and music. All of these elements together created an ostentatious, hilarious, slightly bawdy, unflinching celebration of a show- exactly what a musical should be. If you think this 70s musical is dated, you’re wrong. Dolly Parton’s original songs and the old-school costumes make the show joyously vintage, which only serves to enhance its continued relevance in a world where workers are having to fight harder than ever for their rights.
Graphic: Vivian Yuan