So how does 9 TO 5 play with a teenage cast?
We found out when Amas Musical Theatre, in conjunction with The Rosetta LeNoire Musical Theatre Academy, produced the 2009 Broadway musical version of the 1980 film hit.
Amas and the Academy offer opportunities for kids from 14 to 20. Although it’s a “come-one, come-all” organization that offers an on- or off-stage role to any inner city kid who’d like to participate, the quality of the performances suggests that a multitude of talent had attended auditions. Director Christopher Scott and choreographer Monica Johnson must have agonized when choosing one qualified kid over another.
The trio of leading ladies they cast made us greatly care for the three employees who work for the “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical, bigot” Franklin Hart (the excellent Henry Houghton). Although office manager Violet Newstead (the superb Aracely Jimenez) has been with the company for 15 years, she’s had to endure Hart’s promoting men whom she trained into positions that she could easily handle.
Today she must guide new employee Judy Bernly (the winning Michelle Richards) into office life. Achieving that won’t be easy, for Judy has been a career housewife who didn’t need to work until her husband dumped her for his 19-year-old secretary.
One of the first things Violet tells her is to not associate with Doralee Rhodes (the effervescent Louise Palmer), who’s having an affair with Hart. But actually, she isn’t, although Hart keeps propositioning her and in no uncertain terms. One valuable lesson taught in 9 TO 5 is that people should not make assumptions about others based on the slightest of circumstantial evidence. Doralee has an enticing figure, but that doesn’t mean that she wants to entice with it. The screenplay by Patricia Resnick and Colin Higgins stresses that she’s in a very happy marriage and so does the book that Resnick fashioned for the musical. 9 TO 5 doesn’t sugar-coat the fact that office workers often jump to conclusions about their colleagues and that forethought, understanding and discretion are much better options.
How very smart of Dustin Cross to put Doralee in a relatively modest business suit, albeit a hot pink one. In the original 2009 Broadway production, Megan Hilty was dressed much too provocatively; her flamboyant clothes suggested she was looking for co-workers’ attention.
9 TO 5 is set in 1979, which we can immediately glean from seeing a typewriter on each desk. However, don’t make your office workers actually type, for the unpleasant clack-clack-clacks will distract from the dialogue your audience needs to hear. A delicious detail that Scott included was to have his typists make a swoopy sound every time they reached the end of a line and pushed back their rollers to start typing on the next line.
It’s a show that can be done simply. Amas didn’t have much more than a dozen blocks that were stacked upright to create the illusion of file cabinets or an elevator bank. They also were placed flat to make the bed that Hart must stay on after the three women bond (and happily, they do) and kidnap him to improve working conditions. Alas, 9 TO 5 does suggest that two wrongs make a right (which they do not) but the end somewhat justifies the means, because Hart is punished and Violet is promoted.
There isn’t much scenic demand in the opening number, which borrows Dolly Parton’s Oscar-nominated song. The entire cast was on the floor with a sheet covering each kid – until an alarm clock alarmed them all that they had best arise and prepare for work. Dustin Cross clad some in pajamas and some in their work uniforms. (Well, some people do sleep in their clothes. Think of the time it saves!)
There aren’t that many production numbers, which means your choreographer won’t be overtaxed. Monica Johnson wisely had a lot of running in place and twirling to make for some nice stage pictures.
Costume demands aren’t so demanding in 9 TO 5, either. It’s all office wear, albeit of 1979. A raid on a parent or older sibling’s closet may yield those pleated skirts, burgundy slacks, jacket dresses and ankle-strapped shoes.
Note the emphasis on women’s clothes. There’s no question that 9 TO 5 requires far fewer men in its cast than many other musicals. Aside from Hart, the only other male role of significance is Joe (the terrific Rhys Athayde), the junior accountant who’s smitten with Violet, but is having no luck in convincing her to date him because she’s older. (Good thing that the dialogue establishes this age discrepancy right from the outset, for the kids playing Violet and Joe seemed to be about the same age.)
But otherwise, you’ll have to cast Roz (the exceptional Sheila Murray), the blindly loyal assistant who’s stupidly in love with Hart; Margaret, the office lush (the hilarious Alani Gabrielle Ramirez) and Maria (the most able Isabella Rivera), who is fired simply for questioning if men are making more than women at this company.
Here’s where 9 TO 5 shows its greatest value. The issue of men being paid more than women for doing the same jobs isn’t an issue that has completely disappeared in 2014. And that’s not all: some Amas kids have already been employees and have witnessed what real working life is like. As we all know, time goes by quickly and soon these kids will be facing the issues of “job sharing, flex time and day care” that are specifically mentioned in Resnick’s book.
Other kids will soon be employers. Perhaps when they are in positions of authority, they’ll remember this musical that brought to light how to deal fairly with co-workers and subordinates.
Kids will also identify with Doralee, for virtually everyone has been ostracized at some point in life. How many of us have been victimized by rumors – some, in fact, of a similar nature to the ones that are plaguing Doralee? Maybe after kids do 9 TO 5, they won’t rush to judgment so quickly.
While divorce is of course tougher than a teenage breakup, perhaps kids in 9 TO 5 will learn to separate from their boyfriends or girlfriends in a more civilized fashion. After seeing how callous Judy’s soon-to-be-ex-husband Dick (the appropriately insensitive Wayne Hampton) is in ending their marriage, they may not be as cavalier and may be more sensitive to hurt feelings.
Judy makes an excellent journey from scared rabbit to valued colleague. Although she initially felt that she was nothing without her husband, she comes to see her own self-worth and realizes she deserves appreciation. This is an important lesson for kids to learn, too. Let them savor Judy’s victory when her ex comes crawling back and she’s able to accurately tell him that “I’m doing so much more than you ever thought I could.”
All well and good – but be well apprised that 9 TO 5 is not the show for conservative communities. Some teachers will be forced to dismiss it out of hand, for not only does it contain profanity but it also includes references to some less-than-vanilla sexual practices. Marijuana figures into the plot, too, and hardly for medicinal reasons. Here is genuine reefer madness that doesn’t lead to any punitive repercussions.
As a result, 9 TO 5 will only find approval from teachers who believe “Well, the kids know all about this stuff, anyway, so, really, what’s the harm?”
You know you school community. Plan accordingly.
You may e-mail Peter at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his weekly column each Tuesday at www.masterworksbroadway.com and each Friday at www.kritzerland.com. His new book, Strippers, Showgirls, and Sharks – a Very Opinionated History of the Broadway Musicals That Did Not Win the Tony Award is now available at www.amazon.com.