Review: 9 to 5 The Musical on stage at the Den Theatre

Review: 9 to 5 The Musical on stage at the Den Theatre
(left to right) Anne Sheridan Smith, Sharriese Hamilton and Sara Reinecke. Firebrand Theatre’s production of 9 TO 5 THE MUSICAL. Photo by Tyler Core.

9 TO 5 THE MUSICAL that just opened at the Den Theatre in Chicago is one of a laundry list of films that have been reworked for the stage, some successfully such as Monty Python's Spamalot (2005) others not so much.

In the last several years Chicago has seen more than its share of these including Kinky Boots The Musical (2012) that went to Broadway (and is still there) and Pretty Woman, the 1990's movie that recently opened at the Oriental Theatre in previews for a Broadway run.

One difference between Pretty Woman: THE MUSICAL and 9 to 5 THE MUSICAL is that 9 to 5 has been a musical since its inception whereas music was created especially for the Pretty Woman musical.

The 9 to 5 score by Dolly Parton, is memorable and moves along the storyline of the 1980 comedy directed by Colin Higgins, written by Higgins and Patricia Resnick that starred Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton.

The show grossed over $103.9 million (back when that was a lot of money) and is number 74 on the American Film Institute's "100 Funniest Movies."

But is it still funny?  Does it translate to stage? And does it translate to 2018?

Yes and no.

One problem. What was funny in the 1980s isn't so funny now.

Broadway tried to turn 9 to 5 into a musical in 2009 to mixed reviews. Marriott Theatre did the same with somewhat better results in 2013.

Now Firebrand Theatre has taken on the task.

One might ask why would Firebrand Theatre, the first musical theatre company "committed to employing and empowering women by expanding opportunities on and off the stage" conclude its inaugural season with the musical comedy 9 to 5 to bring their message forward. 

According to the press release; 

9 TO 5 THE MUSICAL follows three unlikely friends as they take control of their office and learn there is nothing they can't do, even in a man's world--this heartfelt story still rings true today--it is about women shattering stereotypes, lifting each other up and succeeding beyond their wildest dreams.

The Firebrand production sticks close to the original story of three unlikely women who form a workplace bond all in the name of getting revenge against their sexist boss. Artistic Director Harmony France, gives the production a needed shot in the arm by pumping up its female characters with strong personalities and softening the male characters.

(front, l to r) Sharriese Hamilton, Veronica Garza, Tyler Symone, Michael Turrentine, Khaki Pixley, Scott Danielson and Alyssa Soto with (back, l to r) Royen Kent, Elizabeth Morgan and Ted Kitterman in Firebrand Theatre’s production of 9 TO 5 THE MUSICAL. Photo by Emily Schwartz.

(front, l to r) Sharriese Hamilton, Veronica Garza, Tyler Symone, Michael Turrentine, Khaki Pixley, Scott Danielson and Alyssa Soto with (back, l to r) Royen Kent, Elizabeth Morgan and Ted Kitterman in Firebrand Theatre’s production of 9 TO 5 THE MUSICAL. Photo by Emily Schwartz.

Ahead of its time in the 1980s, the story that rang true then has undergone major real time advances making the piece more a slice of life from the "not so good old days" than a wake up call for today.

What makes the Firebrand production a worthwhile night out in the theater is the talented cast, the choreography, musicians, the comedic timing and the minimal staging that makes it pop. There are some knockout performance including: Veronica Garza, as the frumpy Roz,who brought the house down with her red hot mama rendition of "Hart to Heart."

Other standouts include Sharriese Hamilton's (Doralee) outstanding performance of Parton's classic “Backwoods Barbie,” Anne Sheridan Smith's spot-on Violet and Sara Reinecke's Judy, who knocks it out of the park with “Get Out and Stay Out" ( I no longer need a man) directed at her ex when he decides he wants her back. 

The production team for 9 TO 5 THE MUSICAL includes Eleanor Kahn (scenic design), Virginia Varland (costume design), Heather Gilbert (lighting design), Amanda Sager (sound design), Geoff Bleeker (production manager), Adelina Feldman-Schultz (asst. director, casting director), Caswell James (technical director) and JC Widman (stage manager).

Cast (in alphabetical order): Scott Danielson (Hart), Veronica Garza (Roz), Sharriese Hamilton (Doralee), Royen Kent (Bob, Dwayne), Ted Kitterman (Dick, Tinsworthy), Elizabeth Morgan (Margaret, Missy), Khaki Pixley (Kathy), Sara Reinecke (Judy), Anne Sheridan Smith (Violet), Alyssa Soto (Maria), Tyler Symone (Josh) and Michael Turrentine (Joe).

What: 9 to 5 THE MUSICAL

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars

Where: The Den Theatre's Bookspan Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave.

When: now through May 20

Tickets: $45. $20 students/industry rush tickets available at the box office. Tickets are currently available at firebrandtheatre.org.

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