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Review: '9 to 5,' what a way to stage a production

"9 to 5: The Musical" is not the stage version of a chick flick, but there may be an uncomfortable moment or two for men in the audience during Phoenix Theatre's summer musical at the Sheldon Theatre.

That's especially true for men of a certain age who remember the early days of the women's movement, when frustrated female workers kept bumping their heads on the glass ceiling.

We laugh now, and some of a different age group wonder what all the fuss was about.

But for all of the humor and lively music, "9 to 5" is also a paean to the women who -- like the women in this story -- brought day care, job sharing, flexible hours and other benefits into the workplace.

Serious moments are rare in this production, though. Audiences will leave smiling and humming.

"9 to 5" gets off to a great start with Dolly Parton on the big screen, introducing the story and the characters. She starred in the movie version, and wrote all the songs for the stage show, which is set in the 1970s.

The three women who are at the heart of the story -- Violet (Terese Bjornstad), Doralee (Therese Thompson) and Judy (Anna Ostendorf) -- were amazing in Thursday's opening night performance.

Their characters form a tight bond as they do battle with their obnoxious boss, Mr. Hart (Tom Feehan). But even better, the actors demonstrate a camaraderie that makes even the ridiculous seem possible. They click.

Violet develops the confidence to follow her dream of being more than a secretary who trains young men to become her boss when she knows she could do that job better than they will. Bjornstad's acting experience is evident, and her singing voice is fine.

Thompson is stunning as Doralee, the Dolly Parton character who knows there's much more to her than great hair and looks and fights to overcome being a stereotype. She maintains the southern belle persona throughout the show, and she belts out songs with aplomb.

Ostendorf portrays a shy Judy whose confidence has been shattered by a wandering husband and the realization that she has no workplace skills. She, too, learns a lot about her own potential. Ostendorf has a particularly appealing voice; listeners feel the impact of her solos.

Feehan gets no sympathy in his portrayal of the man who is the target of their building animosity. He is everything you could imagine in a sexist, self-important boss. When the women "dream" of ways to get rid of him and ultimately truss him up, Feehan is the perfect foil. He gets extra credit for taking all their abuse in a way that makes us laugh.

The supporting cast is solid -- especially Helene Olson-Reed as Roz, who harbors a secret passion for Hart, and Mary Rauterkus as Margaret, a different kind of lush. Both have terrific comedy timing, and Olson-Reed's singing is memorable.

Also enjoyable are Michael Swinarski's musical interlude as Joe, who is wooing Violet, and John Anderson's portrayal of Mr. Tinsworthy, who finally sees Hart for what he is.

The production has lots of group dancing and singing, which gives everyone a chance to show off their 1970s clothing and hairstyles. Costume designers Karen Boek and Dace Miller did a good job matching costumes to personalities. Dawn Anderson is choreographer.

The set and props are totally workable. With all the office equipment on wheels, scene changes are accomplished quickly and smoothly.

The orchestra, under the direction of Rob Schmidtke, sounds like it's having a lot of fun, too, especially when playing musical interludes during scene changes. It always takes some time to balance sound levels for vocals; being able to hear the lyrics is critical. Vocal director is Dawn Conroy-Pretto.

Sean Dowse, director, has never disappointed. He cast just the right people in this show, showed them the way, and gets ultimate credit for an enjoyable evening at the theater.

"9 to 5: The Musical" will be performed again at 7 p.m. July 20-21, and at 2 p.m. July 22.

If you go...

What: "9 to 5: The Musical"

Who: Phoenix Theatre

When: 7 p.m. July 20-21, 2 p.m. July 22

Where: T.B. Sheldon Theatre, 443 W. Third St.

Cost: $20 adults, $12 students, plus fee

More info: or 651-388-8700