Columbian’s ‘9 to 5’ thoroughly entertaining

By Gary Clift

There’s a thoroughly entertaining production of the stage-musical “9 to 5” running at the Columbian Theatre in Wamego the next couple of weekends. As a first nighter I was entertained and surprised a bit.

The surprise came from the way the 2008 show, based on the huge hit 1980 movie, played up its nostalgic elements. The secretaries used typewriters, for example, and one of them noted that then-future technology promised automatic justified right margins.

So there were topical asides like that one. And then the main complication depended on political and even legal incorrectness now largely buried in the dust of our passing. T-Shane Roberts played Mr. Hart, the boss of the featured office of typists and accountants working for multinational Consolidated Industries.

Hart is an old-fashioned sort of villain. He promotes inexperienced men over bright and effective women, he calls the secretaries “girls” and expects them to do personal shopping for him and to get him coffee. He intimidates some employees and stares at the shirts of some others, specifically Doralee (Krysten Day), the office “Backwoods Barbie.”

He has also told others at work that he is bedding Doralee, and this has made her a pariah. As it happens, she discovers his bragging the same day office leader Violet (Jennifir McGillis) fears she may have put rat poison in some coffee intended for him—the rat poison box and the one for Skinny and Sweet look just the same, except for the skull and crossbones.

Doralee and Violet have been joined by office newcomer Judy (Hannah Conroy-Philbrook), the discarded wife, in a fantasy-sharing session prompted by their experiment with marijuana. Then when Hart threatens them over the poison incident, the women hog tie him in his own otherwise deserted house and begin running the office in the way they wished it always had been run.

Doralee’s ability to fake Hart’s signature makes it possible for them to send office snoop Roz (Christy Collette) off to a training session. They set up an on-site day care facility and send office drunk Margaret (Cortney Beims) off to dry out. And so on. As the office workers’ lives are made easier, their production improves.

But the trio of heroines can’t keep Hart bound forever. His wife is on her way back from a cruise, Roz is on her way back from intensive French study, and then the big boss, Mr. Tinsworthy appears, asking questions. How will good prevail?

The show’s first act songs, while not extraordinarily varied, established the comic tone and in the Columbian production the solid cast, directed by Brent Sigman, performed with verve and confidence. The four featured women and Roberts sang well. The other cast members dance well (with Laura Vallejo’s decent and frequent choreography having a hint of the nostalgic about it, too). And Richard Philbrook’s five- piece pit band gave a professional backing to the action.

The production will remind older ticketholders of the movie, of course. I found myself thinking of the great Dabney Coleman, who played Hart. On my way home, I got to thinking about Coleman in “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” where, as father of the young evangelist Merle Jeeter, I believe he drawled that he had seen some sell their immortal souls for as little as “a buck seventy-five.”

But while I was in the Columbian I didn’t need to remember jokes of the early seventies. There was plenty of effective comedy in the contemporary production of the musical “9 to 5.”

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