Review: 9 to 5 the Musical at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission.

Ensemble Members of 9 to 5. Credit: Alison Harbaugh

Every morning I get up for work, I can’t help but think of the ever-popular tune that states, “I tumble of out of bed and stumble to the kitchen, pour myself a cup of ambition and yawn and stretch and try to come to life.” Ain’t it the truth?! This reviewing thing is just a part time gig, a passion, but a part time gig, and just like many others out there, I’m still working 9 to 5! Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s latest offering, 9 to 5 the Musical, with Music and Lyrics by Dolly Parton and Book by Patricia Resnick, based on the 1980 film, gives us a glimpse into the life of an female office workers who faced some of the same struggles women in the workforce face today. Though the message is dead serious, this production is a fun and delightful take on what it’s like to be a strong, independent woman in a male dominated world. This production is Directed and Choreographed by Tommy Malek, with Music Direction by Rachel Sandler and Assistant Music Director Chris Pinder.

In a nutshell, 9 to 5 the Musical is based on the 1980 film of the same name, and features music and lyrics by Dolly Parton and  Book by Patricia Resnick. The musical centers on the the working lives of three women, Violet, the Senior Supervisor, Judy, the new girl, and Doralee. the sexy and sassy, but kind secretary to the big boss. They all work at Consolidated Industries, which is presided over by the sexist, lecherous, and pompous, Franklin Hart. By cause of a misunderstanding and innocent mistake, these three women hilariously take matters into their own hands and chart a course to better themselves and better the conditions for their co-workers.

Set Design by Tommy Malek and George Lawson is simple and practical but the bright colors and levels keep the action flowing and interesting. It’s a great space for this piece and Malek and Lawson use their space wisely, with moving set pieces and levels to present different locales. Kudos on well though-out design.

Costume Design by Tommy Malek (who seems to be wearing most of the hats on the creative side of this production), is on-point. Set in the first year of the 80s decade, there are heavy remnants of the 70s style still alive and well. Not only is the ensemble dressed with accurate attire for the time, they are dressed in business attire of the time, which adds value to this production. The wigs are spot on and everyone looks like they stepped out of a late 70s-early 80s JC Penny ad… which is absolutely appropriate for this piece.

As I said before, with Music & Lyrics by Dolly Parton, you can’t go wrong, but… I’m a huge fan, so I might be a little biased on that point. However, Music Direction by Rachel Sandler with Assistant Music Director Chris Pinder is as close to perfection as one can get for a production. All of the songs came across clear and well-rehearsed and the ensemble had their cues and harmonies down pat. It’s also worth mentioning the pit orchestra was aaahhh-mazing! At points, I thought I was listening to a polished recording and this orchestra didn’t falter once. The orchestra included: Ken Kimble (Piano/Conductor), Trent Goldsmith (Keyboard), James Rodak, Joe Calianno, Justin Kaley (Reeds), Randy Neilson and Tony Settineri (Trombone), Allyson Wesley (Trumpet and Flugelhorn), Diego Retana (Guitar), Reid Bowman (Bass), and Larry Berry and Andrew Bilbrey (Drums). Kudos to Sandler, Pinder, and the Pit Orchestra for a job very well done.

(l-r) Ande Kolp as Violet, Sydney Phipps as Doralee, and Lindsay Litka as Judy. Credit: Alison Harbaugh

Tommy Malek, among many other duties, takes the helm of this piece and I’ve got to start off with saying his casting can’t be better. He has assembled a strong, versatile cast that work well together and off of each other. The pacing of this piece is fantastic and the energy keeps up throughout the entire production. Malek seems to have a good comprehension of these characters and this story and presents it in a polished piece with a clear vision.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention that the entire ensemble puts 100% effort into this production, if not more. The dances are tight and the harmonies are clear making this a standout ensemble and each and every person involved should be proud of his or her work.

Steve Castrodad as Mr. Hart. Credit: Alison Harbaugh

In a strong female heavy cast, Steve Castrodad takes on the villainous role of Mr. Hart, the cold, hard boss and big man in the office. Rawls seems to have a good grasp of the character who is, and I quote, “an sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot,” but his execution of the character wasn’t as strong as his fellow cast mates. It’s clear that Castrodad gets what this character was about, but he seems to be trying too hard to get there. Vocally, he pulls the numbers off well enough and acts his way through them beautifully and humorously such as  in his featured number, “Here For You.” Though there are a few minor bumps in his performance, Castrodad still has a strong showing giving full effort and really gets you to hate his character and his sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical, bigot ways. Getting an audience to hate or love your character is a feat in itself and he pulls it off nicely.

Ande Kolp as Violet and Zac Brightbill as Joe. Credit: Alison Harbaugh

Zac Brightbill takes on the role of Joe, a junior accountant and office mate that apparently has feelings for Violet and wants to see where the relationship goes. Brightbill embodies this character and his natural delivery and chemistry with his cast mates makes for a strong performance. His vocal work in his featured number, the poignant “Let Love Grow” is solid and his ensemble work is energized and on point making for a praiseworthy performance all around.

Roz Keith, Mr. Hart’s right-hand-man and nuisance to everyone else in the office, is played with gusto by Traci Denhardt. Denhardt has a good grasp on this character and takes this role and makes it her own with flawless comedic timing and an energized, wailing (in a great way) rendition of her featured number, “Heart to Hart.”

(l-r) Lindsay Litka as Judy, Ande Kolp as Violet, and Sydney Phipps as Doralee. Credit: Alison Harbaugh

The absolute standouts in this production are, hands down, Ande Kolp as Violet Newstead, Syndey Phipps as Doralee Rhodes, and Lindsey Litka as Judy Bernly. These three actresses are to be commended and applauded for their work in this production. Vocally, all three are powerhouses and, if Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre had a roof, they would blow it off! Their chemistry is second to none and vocally, they complement each other perfectly adding great value to their group numbers such as the upbeat, inspirational “Shine Like the Sun.” I’m familiar with the film and went in with some reservations, being a huge fan, but these three actresses, alone, made this production worth it and put my reservations to rest.

Kolp plays Violet Newstead with a good balance of wit and tenderness, as the character requires. She wants to kick open the door to the boys club and show them she’s just as good, if not better and Kolp manages to bring this across in her performance in such numbers as the high energy “One of the Boys,” Though her delivery may seem a little too scripted at times, she has a strong presence on stage and gives a powerful vocal performance.

(l-r) Ande Kolp as Violet, Sydney Phipps as Doralee, and Lindsay Likta as Judy. Credit: Alison Harbaugh

Doralee Rhodes, the country gal with good old fashioned values, but knows how to take care of herself, is played superbly by Phipps. Though her southern accent comes and goes, the character is spot on and, vocally, this woman knocks it out of the park. Disclaimer… I’m a HUGE Dolly Parton fan. I was definitely watching Phipps through squinted, suspicious eyes when she first entered but… she won me over in the first couple of lines because I knew she understood this character entirely. Vocally, Phipps knocks it out of the ballpark, especially with her renditions of “Backwoods Barbie” and her parts in group numbers. She’s a standout that you want to keep any eye on.

Lindsay Litka as Judy Bernly. Credit: Alison Harbaugh

This brings us to Lindsay Litka taking on the role of the timid, mousey Judy Bernly, who is the new girl in the office after a heartbreaking divorce. Litka pulls off this character superbly with just the right blend of timidness and strength that the character requires. She has a natural delivery and strong presence that makes for a robust performance. Litka, too, is a vocal dynamo with a strong voice that rings throughout the theatre and brings down the house in her featured number, “Get Out and Stay Out.” Litka makes one stand up and take notice and should not be missed in this role.

Final thought… 9 to 5 the Musical is a fun, energized adaptation of a classic film about the worth of women in the workplace and it’s a strong message to young women everywhere. They couldn’t go wrong with Music and Lyrics by Dolly Parton, though Patricia Resnick’s book does seemed rushed and scattered at times. The entire ensemble is on point and gives 100% to the performance and the live pit orchestra is nothing short of spectacular. Big, bright, and full of catchy tunes, this is what I call a modern-old-fashioned musical comedy with the perfect blend of song, dance, and book with an important message. This is not a production you want to miss this summer. Get your tickets now!

This is what I thought of this production of 9 to 5 the Musical.… what do you think?

9 to 5 the Musical will play through September 22 at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, 143 Compromise Street, Annapolis, MD 21401. For tickets, call the box office at 410-268-9212 or purchase them online.

CORRECTION: The actor playing the role of Mr. Hart was mistakenly listed as Leigh K. Rawls, who plays Mrs. Hart. Steve Castrodad is the actor playing Mr. Hart and the article has been corrected.

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