Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: New Jersey / Delaware Valley

9 to 5
The Ritz Theatre Company
Review by Cameron Kelsall

Also see Cameron's reviw of The Piano Lesson


Janine Merolla and John Baccaro
Photo by Chris Miller
The Ritz Theatre Company in Haddon Township opens its 2016 season with the musical adaptation of the classic 1980 comedy film 9 to 5. Originally produced on Broadway in 2009, the musical features a sparkling score by Dolly Parton (who, along with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, starred in the movie) and a book by Patricia Resnick (also the screenwriter) that retains much of the film's razor-sharp wit and effortless charm. Despite a relatively brief New York run, 9 to 5 has become a favorite of regional, community, and school theater companies around the country.

The story centers around three women working together at the fictional Consolidated Corporations. Violet Newstead (Madeline R. Bender) is the dedicated professional office manager who, despite fifteen years of service, is consistently passed over for promotions in favor of underqualified male colleagues. Judy Bernly (Janine Merolla) enters the workplace as a secretary in middle age, after her executive husband divorces her. Doralee Rhoads (Lauren Talvacchio) is a kind, misunderstood country girl, unfairly judged by her co-workers over a perceived affair with the CEO, Franklin Hart (John Baccaro).

Hart is an unapologetic chauvinist who stifles any chance of female advancement in the workplace and fosters a culture of sexism and harassment. All of the women—and some of the men, including Violet's would-be paramour (played by Robert Stoop)—resent the atmosphere, but are afraid they will lose their jobs if they speak up. What would happen if Mr. Hart were out of the picture? A misunderstanding over accidentally poisoned coffee allows the company, and the audience, to find out.

Parton's score is an effortless blend of rousing ensemble numbers, plaintive ballads, and hilarious character songs. Would that they were served by a cast who could do them justice. One cannot fault Merolla, who is equally at home plangently intoning her character's fears and doubts (the lovely "I Just Might") and belting to the rafters (as she does in Judy's liberation anthem, "Get Out and Stay Out"). Baccaro—a local music teacher—also makes good use of his warm baritone, which is reminiscent of the role's originator, Marc Kudisch.

However, neither Bender nor Talvacchio appear at ease in their roles. Bender's Violet is witty and world weary, yet she often seems needlessly detached from the proceedings. And though the role of Violet was written for Allison Janney—not exactly known for her musical abilities—Bender struggles to keep her grainy alto on pitch. Talvacchio is simply miscast. She tries to compensate by channeling Parton, but that leaves us with an impersonation, not a performance. I couldn't help but think that Martha Marie Wasser, who was so winning in The Ritz's recent production of Rent, would have made a much better Doralee.

Rhonda V. Fidelia steals every scene she's in as Roz Keith, Hart's "administrative eyes, ears, nose, and throat." (she might have made an even better Violet). Unfortunately, Stoop's Joe is so unmemorable that I forgot he was even singing during "Let Love Grow," his character's big duet with Violet. The large ensemble are generally fine, if largely unremarkable.

Due to technical difficulties, the production's sole preview was cancelled, meaning that the opening night performance I attended was the first time the actors went before a paying audience. It showed. David Mooney's production is ambitious and occasionally winning, and perhaps it will come together more smoothly as the run progresses. But I cannot imagine the fatal flaws in the casting will be resolved.

9 to 5 continues at The Ritz Theatre Company (915 White Horse Pike in Haddon Township) through Sunday, February 7, 2016. Tickets ($26-36) can be purchased online at ritztheatreco.org, by phone (856-858-5830), or at the box office (Tuesday-Friday, 1:00-6:00).


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