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Review: 9 to 5's 'girl power' message still has punch

Delayed opening hasn't dampened energy of cast for this upbeat musical, based on Dolly Parton's hit song

Even though the audience knows 9 to 5: The Musical, (based on Dolly Parton's hit song of the same name) is set in the late 1970's, a couple bits of dated dialogue dished out by the misogynistic boss toward his mostly female office staff still draws groans from the audience: comments about the staffer's 'time of the month' and 'girls' fetching cups of coffee happen regularly for the story's villain Franklin Hart, and elicit understandable boos from the largely female audience. It's a reminder that in the latest offering from The Citadel Theatre, the song and dance-filled musical is also a social commentary of the times and a chance to wonder if things have really changed, and how much?

Nothing heavy here, though--9 to 5 is a fun, energetic show that was late getting off the starting blocks (COVID-19 within the cast), but is ready to fly for a springtime run. Fans of Dolly Parton will rejoice at this stage adaptation of the comedy-musical hit movie that won her, her first Academy Award in 1980.

Over 40 years later, the story remains relevant, and the music just as memorable. In fact, the talented songwriter Parton wrote all the songs for this stage adaptation, and her sound and sassy attitude is front and centre in tunes like Backwoods Barbie, One of the Boys and Get Out and Stay Out. There's a strong current of 'anything he can do, I can do better' in Parton's 'girl power' lyrics, and the audience loves it. Long live Dolly, indeed.

The story follows a group of three downtrodden women working in a 1980’s office where their pompous, lecherous boss plagues their everyday lives. But things change when a hypothetical plan to get even with the boss and take over the company, accidentally turns into a reality. With a little ingenuity and compassion, comedic mishaps and fun, catchy tunes, these women prove they can run a company better than any man.

Sharon Crandall is great as Violet--(the Lily Tomlin character in the movie)--she's a strong single mom trying to climb the corporate ladder in a man's world, and we feel her frustration. But Crandall shows Violet's vulnerable side too, especially in her growing relationship with colleague Joe (played in charming fashion by Citadel favourite Andrew MacDonald-Smith).

Patricia Zentilli is the sweet and at-first spineless Judy; a treat to watch as her character's grows the backbone needed to deal with a cheating ex-husband and bullying boss. Zentilli has a glorious voice and the audience is with her throughout, as she pushes back against the male oppression around her to become her best self.

Just like the ray-of-sunshine Parton, Julia McLellan is fantastic as Dora-Lee (the comical-looking character portrayed by Parton in the film). McLellan is a dynamite singer and wonderful as the iconic Dora-Lee--bringing toughness and tenderness together in a great performance. Even though the character of Dora-Lee doesn't have to grow much--she was always prepared to change her boss from 'a rooster to a hen with one shot', after all, McLellan feels like the joyful guiding force of the trio--as much a ray of sunshine in her performance as Dolly herself.

Shout out to Juan Chioran as the nasty Franklin Hart--he's an awesome villain; someone we love to hate, and to local actor Kristin Johnston as Roz. Johnston embodies Roz, whether as the buttoned-up office manager or love-sick underling longing for boss man Hart. She's a hoot in the role.  Let's not forget the live, all-female band, out of sight but not out of mind and directed by the fine hand of Janice Flower.      

Rachel Peake, associate artistic director of the Arts Club Theatre Company in Vancouver is back at the Citadel to direct this production. Peake brings passion and a sense of fun to the piece, which after all, is the best way to get a message across, don't you think?

9 To 5: The Musical plays in the Citadel's Maclab Theatre until May 29. Tickets are available at 780.425.1820 or online at citadeltheatre.com.