When a trio of beleaguered women of Consolidated Industries tell their boss they'll "shine like the sun" -- now that he's being held captive at home -- it's not hard to believe in Stars Dinner Theatre's "9 to 5." This spirited closer to the theater's season, which kicked off its run Friday, is rife with catchy tunes and strong performances.
Audiences should be well-acquainted with the show's story, which is based on the popular 1980 film starring Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton and Jane Fonda. From its start in Los Angeles in 2008 through a Broadway run and a couple of tours, the musical has inspired mixed reviews, with many critics attacking the big production numbers. Although the Stars stage is large enough for the 17-member cast, it would not accommodate big staging and multiple set changes. But rather than a detriment, that smaller scope keeps "9 to 5" grounded.
"We don't have fly space, automation to move sets, trap doors to have things disappear below stage, Times Square-size digital displays or million-dollar budgets," said director Bruce Saathoff. "That being said, I think a lot of shows play better in small venues because you get to pare down the glitz and focus on the music, the story and the characters."
That strategy proves largely successful, even though I would have loved to have seen more than one scene of boss Franklin Hart Jr. (Adam Cline) dangling from a jury-rigged garage door opener in his bedroom. Also benefitting from a bit more glitz would have been the revenge fantasies of leading women Violet Newstead, Doralee Rhodes and Judy Bernly (played deftly by Jill Burdick, Bethany Rowlee and Jennifer Resolme). Despite some simplicity, it was fun seeing ensemble actors in woodland animal hats and masks assist Burdick in poisoning Mr. Hart. And Doralee's and Judy's revenge songs made good use of the choreography work by Brent Rochon and Marnie Forzetting.
Setting the tempo was the live orchestra, featuring a special addition. In his opening remarks, executive producer Jim Fillbrandt introduced the drummer, Brad Briscoe, the son of John Briscoe, who had a large role in shaping Bakersfield Music Theatre.
Ensemble pieces don't seem to suffer from the staging, especially the rousing "Change It," which serves to underscore the show's main message of taking charge of your life. That's where "9 to 5" thrives, in the women's path to growth. Rowlee's "Backwoods Barbie" pulled back the curtain on her "country girl's idea of glam" to convey the pain of being excluded. (On a superficial note, her styling was spot-on, with a brassy blonde wig and curve-hugging costumes.)
Resolme performed her own show-stopper with "Get Out and Stay Out," when Judy finally kicked her ex-husband to the curb in order to focus on her dreams. Her powerful performance drew notable applause from the nearly full audience on opening night. With such a moving number, it's easy to understand why playwright Patrick Resnick chose to end Judy's story with writing a best-seller on being single (rather than marrying the Xerox salesman, as her character did in the movie).
All three women hold their own musically, but acting-wise, this is Burdick's show. From a brief scene with her son at home to a borderline-slapstick hospital adventure, she dominates the stage with wisecracks and knowing mannerisms and a little razzle dazzle, as seen in the dancing performance for "One of the Boys."
This workplace comedy proved big on the laughs, but some of those unintentionally undermined the drama. The audience couldn't help but be amused by supporting actress Leslie Lane who, as office alcoholic Margaret, amusingly handled a hidden flask. Unfortunately, that happened while Resolme sang of her hopes to rebuild her life in "I Just Might."
Overall, though, the comedy was well-timed, especially as Mr. Hart lusts for Doralee in "Here for You" and his assistant, Roz (played by Tamara White), lusts for him in "Heart to Hart." White pushed her performance to the edge of camp but avoided going over the edge.
Additional credit goes to Rowlee, who performed for the last quarter of Act 1 with a problematic mic. Her voice still rang out in the theater, only fading when more than one person sang or spoke.
One final note is that if you're interested in dinner and a show, reserve your seats in advance. Space may be available the day of the show, but you'll probably be out of luck to snag a meal.