REVIEW: “9 to 5” at NKU is Working

The play ridicules rather than lambasts.  This is a good, upbeat, funny, and well performed show.

by Doug Iden

Dolly Parton, figuratively and occasionally literally, gallops onto the stage in the Northern Kentucky University (NKU) production of 9 to 5, The Musical. It is being performed at The Carnegie due to renovations to the main campus theater.


Set in 1979 and based upon the popular movie of the same name, 9 to 5 tells the story of three women stuck in the traditional male-dominated corporate structure where men are the bosses and women are the downtrodden and under-appreciated worker-bees.  Recently divorced Judy Bernley (Rachel Gardner) shows up for her first day at work, intimidated and inappropriately dressed. She is rescued by long-suffering Office Manager Violet Newstead (Ellie Bennett) who shepherds Judy through the arduous and arcane office protocols. Doralee Rhodes (Annie Jennings) is the private secretary to the overbearing, sexist President Franklin Hart, Jr. (Jathan Briscoe).  Everyone thinks that Doralee is having an affair with her boss, an untrue rumor perpetuated by Hart.

 The trio’s major nemesis is Roz Keith (played comedically by Audrey Dant) who is in love with Hart and tries to protect him.  However, through a set of musical comedy circumstances, the three primary women hatch a plot to enact revenge on their abusive boss.  The results are outlandish, funny and, ultimately satisfactory for the women and their co-workers. 


The primary theme is misogynism in the “old boy network” workplace which is played satirically and broadly comic.  But. it also is the story of the unlikely friendship of three different women and their personal and professional growth.  Judy emerges from her timid and insecure shell, Doralee proves that she is more than a country bumpkin (like Parton) and Violet soars as a business innovator and leader.


Dolly Parton wrote the movie theme song but not the score. Here, she has written all the songs and lyrics for a live orchestra, led by Music Director Damon Stevens.  The song “9 to 5” brackets the show with the opening full cast number introducing the principal characters, the plot and the tone.  The show closes with the entire cast singing the theme–accompanied by many in the audience.  Parton’s remaining songs are serviceable but not memorable.  A highlight is a series of songs which is pivotal to the union of the three women. Judy, Violet and Doralee smoke pot and dream about vengeance upon Hart.  Judy does the “Dance of Death,” Doralee envisions the “Cowgirl’s Revenge” and Violet spoofs a Disney princess in the “Potion Notion”. 

All the songs include dancing and appropriate costuming by Cat Schmeal-Swope.  Dant, as Roz, does a great comedic turn in “Heart to Hart” (with chorus) and the wistful “5 to 9” in which she dreads the time she will not be with Hart.  Doralee (Jennings) bitterly decries her image as “Backwoods Barbie” and Judy (Gardner) declares her independence from her deadbeat husband in “Get Out and Stay Out.” Violet declares that she is “One of the Boys” and sings a love duet with Joe (James Pinkley) “Let Love Grow”.   Briscoe (as Hart) purrs the salacious “Here for You.”  Chorus numbers include “Around Here,” “Joy to the Girls” and “Shine Like the Sun.”  All the singers are good but Jennings, Bennett. Gardner, Dant and Briscoe excel.


Director Corrie Danielly moves the madcap production along smartly while retaining the tongue-in-cheek mood.  Set Designer Tyler Gabbard solves the movie’s multi-scene dilemma with a sparce set, the use of many props (desks, office furniture, sofas, hospital bed, etc.) and three opaque curtains.  In one hilarious scene, the kidnapped Hart is in a harness which can be suspended in the air.  At the end of Act 1, Briscoe adlibs to the audience in character while flying through the air.  

The multitudinous costumes are almost characters in the story with a huge variety of traditional business garb, rodeo cowgirl outfits, Disneyfied cartoon characters, hospital uniforms, etc.  Wigs and makeup designed by Missy White are prominent, especially in the replication of Dolly Parton’s actual appearance.  Roz’s wig enhances her uptight personality.  

The dancing is good, creative, and frequent.  The chief choreographer is Jeri Deckard Gatch but the playbill also lists Dance Captains Hunter Broyles and Jenna Khan as creators of several production numbers.  The dancing adds texture and tone while helping to tell the story, especially during the “fantasy” songs.  Dolly Parton’s prerecorded voice opens and closes the show.  Sound design by Kevin Havlin.


NKU productions are always fun because of the enthusiasm and energy of the students who really seem to enjoy performing for a live audience, comprised of a lot of their fellow students.  Thirty years later, you can still feel the bite of the landmark feminist movie which is softened by humorous dialogue and occasional broad slapstick routines.  The play ridicules rather than lambasts.  This is a good, upbeat, funny, and well performed show.


So, don your business suit, grab your briefcase and commute to the office during the hours of 9 to 5, an NKU production playing at The Carnegie. Click HERE to get tickets.

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