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Musical '9 to 5' battles stereotypes with mischief

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From left, Robin Higginbotham, Whitney Warrenfeltz and Libby Ingham star in “9 to 5 The Musical” in the Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre. — Courtesy Shenandoah University

By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

Dolly Parton's "9 to 5 The Musical," at Shenandoah University in Winchester, is packed with energy, mischievousness and adult-inspired laughter.

Centered around three career women -- Violet, the office manager who unsuccessfully has been fighting her way up the chain of command; Judy, the new hire who has no job experience; and Doralee, the blond bombshell everyone thinks is the boss' mistress -- the musical, directed by Hal Herman, has plenty of surprises hidden below the surface.

The women become unlikely friends when presented with a common enemy -- the sarcastically named Mr. Hart, who achieved his status in the company by stealing credit for others' work and, presumably, by simply being "one of the boys."

It's very much a man's world, both in 1979 and in the offices of Consolidated Industries, but Violet, Judy and Doralee are about to change all that.

By intermission, the three women not only have united together in spite of their differences, but also have taken Hart's office -- and Hart himself -- by force, succeeding in holding him prisoner in his home using handcuffs, a harness and a garage door opener.

Starring as Violet, Robin Higginbotham personifies strength and persistence in her efforts to become Consolidated's first female CEO. Higginbotham takes ownership of the stage from the moment she appears in the musical's opening number, the title song "9 to 5," during which she joins the throngs of Americans making sleepy-eyed entrances into their typical workday.

It's a day unlike any other for Violet, though, when she arrives at the work-obsessed office and meets Judy -- played by Libby Ingham -- the recent divorcee who finds herself thrust into a corporate world she isn't prepared to handle.

Judy and Violet are sympathetic as opposites who share similar motivations -- the desire for respect in their work and the need to be treated, if not as equals in business, at least as adults by the men in their lives.

As Doralee, Whitney Warrenfeltz first presents herself as someone equipped to evade unwanted physical attention by Hart and his network of sleazy "boys' club" shareholders, but soon becomes a force in her own right.

When ignoring Hart's advances proves not to have been successful in helping her preserve her reputation, Doralee threatens him with the gun she carries in her purse.

Filling Dolly Parton's shoes in the role the country singer made famous in the 1979 film, however, proves a challenge for Warrenfeltz.

Her Texan accent is believable, and her quick-witted enthusiasm is both necessary for the role and a treat to experience, but both become too much to juggle when combined with Parton's musical score.

The score is both tuneful and memorable long after the play ends, but Parton's high notes also overwhelm Ingham and Higginbotham at times. Still, their capable voices more than make up for any deficiencies, particularly when in three-part harmony with Warrenfeltz.

Audience favorite Roz, played by Nicky O'Neal, has theatergoers nearly rolling in the aisles with laughter, with her portrayal of the love-sick "eyes, ears and throat" of office tyrant Hart.

A skilled singer, Ted Anderson, as Hart, is unlikeable from the beginning, a villain audience members easily hope will get what's coming to him.

Costumes by Jennifer Flitton Adams fit the era and add depth to the story, morphing with the characters as they gain confidence in themselves and control over their situations.

The set by William Pierson is minimalist and efficient, moving in swift scene transitions in clever coordination with cheerful music by Thomas Albert, practical lighting by Wm. McConnell Bozman and stunning choreography by Matthew Gose.

Probably not suitable for children, "9 to 5" is, for adults, an entertaining two and a half hours and mixes silly comedy with the more knowing humor that comes with period-based plots that hint at technological changes to come.

Dolly Parton's "9 to 5 The Musical" will continue at the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre Friday at 8 p.m. and will run through July 8. For information, call the box office at 665-4569 or visit shenandoahsummermusictheatre.com.

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