“9 To 5” Slightly Naughty But Mostly Nice At Stages St. Louis

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Summerisa Bell Stevens, Corinne Melancon and Laura E. Taylor as the 3 women who change the workplace in “9 To 5” at Stages St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochnicak

If you remember the 1980 film of the same name, “9 To 5” the musical will take you back to the world of women being paid less in the work place and putting up with sexual harassment. Wait a minute- this is 2017 and isn’t that still going on? Despite the lack of equality in the last 37 years, the premise of the story still gets a lot of laughs and these three crazy women will win your heart in the Stages St. Louis production. Some spicy language and a few dicey situations make this a musical for the grownups, however.

Dolly Parton wrote the delightful title number and starred in the film and now she has penned new numbers to flesh out the stage version which includes a book by Patricia Resnick. Playing the Dolly Parton role on stage here is a delightful “clone” of Dolly named Summerisa Bell Stevens. As Doralee, she conquers the advances by the boss as well as the  behind her back sneers from the other women in the office who truly believe she’s having an affair with him. Her sweet, Southern drawl in both speech and song is perfect for  the role.

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Laura E. Taylor as Judy in the Stages St. Louis production of “9 To5.” Photo: Peter Wochnicak

Corinne Melancon- a Stages’ favorite- scores again as Violet who is widowed with a son (nice work by Jacob Flekier) and trying to move ahead in a world that always keeps women one step away from advancement. Rounding out the trio of precocious females is Laura E. Taylor as Judy. Naive and innocent, she quickly loses her inhibitions when the ladies hatch a plan to “kidnap” the boss, leave him harnessed in his own bedroom and use the embezzlement  proof they find as a means to get back for his philandering and sexist ways.

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Summerisa Bell Stevens dreams of hogtying her boss in “9 To5” at Stages St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak

The ladies rule the show with individual numbers and group numbers. They each get to shine in a dream sequence where they each surmise about how they’ll get back at him. The object of their wrath is Franklin Hart, Jr. and Joe Cassidy brings him to devilish life. He, like most sexist pigs, is both consciously and unconsciously unaware of his infractions. Even a taste of what these ladies bring to light doesn’t sink in and he denies, of course, all allegations against him. It’s a performance rich in oozing oiliness mixed with charm.

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Kari Ely as Roz gets a little too frisky with her boss, Joe Cassidy as Mr. Hart in the Stages St. Louis production of “9 To5.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

Kari Ely practically steals the show with her turn as Roz, Mr. Hart’s private secretary and middle aged spinster who is in love with her boss. Her two solos are superb including the  soulful “Heart To Hart” and the wildly bawdy “5 To 9” in the second act. Jason Michael Evans shines as the love interest of the reluctant Violet.

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Corinne Melancon as Violet opens the second act with the spangly version of the businessmen in “9 To 5” at Stages St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Another St. Louis and Stages favorite, John Flack handles multiple roles including the CEO of the company, Tinsworthy, who enters looking like Colonel Sanders and is eventually convinced that Mr. Hart needs to be relocated. Zoe Vonder Haar does a great job as the office pool lush and Steve Isom is perfectly reptilian as Judy’s ex who tries to work his way back to her when his fling with his secretary fizzles. Of course, the usual outstanding work is done by the supporting cast of characters, singers and dancers. Everything is precise and rehearsed to a fare-the-well so what you always see on stage is perfection.

Michael Hamilton moves the show at a steady pace as director and musical stager. Dana Lewis handles the choreography in fine fashion and the eclectic and electric set design is the work of James Wolk. The Sean M. Savoie lighting design is superb while Brad Musgrove provides a delightful costume theme and Lisa Campbell Albert is right on the mark with the lively music direction.

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A happy ending? What else? Stages St. Louis presents “9 To 5.” Photo: Peter Wochnicak

Though Dolly Parton’s music and especially her lyrics tend to be a bit too CW for my tastes, they do move the story along nicely. It’s pure fluff and sometimes that’s okay. The wild story really scored with folks back in 1980 and now this musical version earns high marks for bringing that feeling back to the stage this time around. “9 To 5” plays at Stages through August 20th. Call 314-821-2407 for tickets or more information.

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