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‘9 to 5’ yields simple, feel-good fun

Lawrence Toppman
Lawrence Toppman is a theater critic and culture writer with The Charlotte Observer.

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  • Review

    ‘9 to 5’

    The Dolly Parton musical kicks off CPCC Summer Theatre’s 40th season, providing broad laughs and a revenge fantasy, as secretaries take down a boorish boss in 1979.

    WHEN: Through June 15 at 7 p.m. Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

    WHERE: Halton Theatre, Kings Drive and Elizabeth Avenue.

    RUNNING TIME: 150 minutes.

    TICKETS: $18-22 ($10 under 15).

    DETAILS: 704-330-6534,

If you’re under 30, the most incredible thing about “9 to 5” may not be that women were once so discriminated against in the workplace or paid less than men – that still goes on – but that a time existed when jobs were everywhere. Didn’t like your situation? Quit and do better. Didn’t have full qualifications? No problem: On-the-job training took care of that!

The musical is set in 1979, one year before the 1980 movie on which it’s based. And though it still works as a female-empowering story in the jaunty production by CPCC Summer Theatre, it now serves as a kind of time capsule, too.

Those times aren’t good for competent Violet (Susan Sanford), misjudged Doralee (Lucia Stetson) or flustered Judy (Susan Cherin Gundersheim), all of whom suffer sexism, condescension, lack of promotion and other abuses at the hands of their idiotic boss, Mr. Hart (Steven B. Martin).

They have no recourse but to kidnap him, tie him to the bed in his home and run the office without him, instituting conditions that make everyone happy. Meanwhile, they try to find some crime to pin on him, so he won’t prosecute them when he finally gets loose.

Patricia Resnick’s book is anachronistic and simplistic: The most progressive companies weren’t offering flexible hours, paid day care, job sharing, casual Fridays and other enlightened programs 34 years ago. Resnick wants merely to elicit a “Whoooo!” of approval from the audience each time a character gives the exaggerated villain another whupping.

Nor are Dolly Parton’s music and lyrics from her top drawer. She wrote two stand-outs, the title song (which she recorded for the film) and “Backwoods Barbie,” about a woman whose big breasts prevented people from appreciating her heart and brain (which Parton recorded before the Broadway show).

Of the other numbers, two-thirds are loud empowerment anthems with lyrics as blunt as these: “You used me, abused me/You cheated me, you lied/So get out and stay out/I’m taking back my life!” A better composer would have written a wicked solo for the bad guy – think of the Devil’s “Those Were the Good Old Days” in the upcoming “Damn Yankees” – but Hart must make do with groin-thrusting single entendres in “Here For You.”

Sanford, Stetson and especially Gundersheim belt the big numbers as they’re meant to be belted, standing at center stage with arms spread. Director Tom Hollis makes the most of these solos, while choreographer Ron Chisholm uses the (mainly non-dancing) stars shrewdly in ensemble numbers, surrounding them with whirling chorus members who keep the energy level high.

And there’s a quaintness to the whole production, with its electric typewriters and clunky desk phones, that keeps us from taking it too seriously in any case. After all, how many of us can recall a time when nobody got to the office before 9 a.m. or went home a jot after 5?

Toppman: 704-358-5232
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