July 7, 2013 —
Ok, so here’s the deal. I’m not a huge fan of musical adaptations to begin with. While there are exceptions to every rule, (think “La Cage Aux Folles” or “The Producers”) there is an endless lists of Broadway shows with a hit song attached (think “Fame” or “Footloose”) that struggle. Each year, the management at the Forestburgh Playhouse (FBP) asks the audience to suggest what shows they would like to see in the future and “9 to 5” received an overwhelming response. In an effort to please (give the people what they want) “9 to 5” is now playing.
Based on the 1980 smash-hit film of the same name (not a musical), it was turned into one with music and lyrics by living legend and film star Dolly Parton. The show premiered in L.A. in 2008.
Personally, I think a non-musical stage play based on the film might have worked better and Broadway audiences apparently agreed, since the show opened in New York in April of 2009, and closed its doors after 148 performances.
I had high expectations because the FBP has a reputation for taking lesser-known productions and really making them work in the jewel box theatre known as the “Miracle in the Forest,” but this time out... not so much. On the plus side, there is good news. Without very strong performances from the three leading ladies, there would have been serious trouble, but Kami Seymour, (Violet) Lauren Chapman, (Doralee) and Jessica Wagner (Judy) worked overtime to elevate the show with great voices, impeccable timing and acting chops that (quite frankly) deserve better material with which to showcase their skills.
The plot remains the same: the three ladies, in an effort to put macho-pig-boss Franklin Hart in his place, abduct him, hog-tie him and string him up while they take over the office and streamline the work place, with a “hit-them-over-the-head” nod to women’s lib, which by 1980 was already a little late. Kevin Confoy (as Hart) is someone I generally love watching perform, but his cartoonish, overblown and mugging interpretation of the boss didn’t work for me and it seemed like he was phoning this one in, aided and abetted by another hammy interpretation of his partner-in-crime assistant Roz (Emma C. Martin). In an effort to make a musical out of the story, Parton has peppered the show with unnecessary tunes and I could have lived without either of the numbers that Martin performed.
Conversely, Parton seems partial to her own character from the film, and as a result, knocked one out of the park for Chapman, whose rendition of “Backwoods Barbie” was highly entertaining. Seymour’s “One for the Boys” succeeded as well and Wagner had an opportunity to shine with “Get Out and Stay Out,” but three decent numbers do not a musical make. Against all odds, the ladies chorus was fairly strong (special shout-out to Cassidy Stoner’s amusing turn as Margaret) but had little to work with and the guys (fabulous in the last show) were just okay. Again, it’s my belief that the production’s limitations lay with the writing itself, rather than the performances, so my finger-pointing is aimed at the creative team, rather than the company.
Almost as if the playhouse agreed with me, Trevor Fredericksen’s scenic design was (to say the least) an uninspired salute to community theatre and was at times, utterly confusing. Michael O’Connor’s lighting design was nonexistent (save for the occasional retina-burning blasts aimed at the audience) and Gretchen Halle’s costume design was more “Spoon River Anthology” than ‘80s office attire. Once again, the musicians came through with flying colors and although I didn’t care for the score, they did a good job performing it. There is one memorable tune (surprise! it’s "9 to 5"), but I knew that one walking in the door.
I asked audience members what they thought after the show and most of them had a good time, so maybe it’s me. Wouldn’t be the first time (and certainly not the last), so my advice remains the same. Go to the Forestburgh Playhouse, support the arts and feel free to shoot me an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org ) with your thoughts. Art is subjective and I have strong opinions, but they are mine and mine alone. I’m far more interested in yours. For showtimes and information, visit www.FBplayhouse.org  or call 845/794-1194.