Civic Theatre of Allentown’s production of “9 to 5: The Musical,” continuing through Feb. 26, is full of surprises. When you least expect it, a minor character belts out a rousing song, or someone from the ensemble does a “George Spelvin” walk-on that’s good for a laugh while distracting the audience’s attention from the scene changes.
On opening night, Feb. 10, on which this review is based, Joe (Chris Egging) had only brief on-stage appearances and a few lines until well into the second act. Then he suddenly sang “Let Love Grow” with Violet (Jan Labellarte). Who would have guessed? What a voice.
One of the most unexpected scenes in the production came from the over-efficient, administrative assistant Roz (Deena Linn) in her racy solo “Heart to Hart.” That turned out to be the biggest, funniest, most enjoyable surprise of the evening. It was so well done, as were her other scenes, that it is surprising she didn’t get a curtain call with the four leads.
It is no surprise, however, that director William Sanders, Civic artistic director, has scored another hit with “9 to 5.” He is a master at working with large casts, having directed more than 50 shows for Civic Theatre.
This show has 18 speaking roles and an ensemble of 14, and Sanders has done an excellent job of sharing funny stage business among many of them. Ensemble players were on stage a good deal of the time, singing and-or dancing, and they all gave 100 percent.
In casting musicals, singing sometimes trumps acting ability. Robert Trexler has a great singing voice, and he puts his songs over very well, but his portrayal of the hated, lecherous boss Franklin Hart, Jr., fell short.
Of the three lead women, Nina Elias’s role as Judy is the weakest, in part because of imbalances in the script’s writing of the character. Elias, however, really tops herself with her remarkable voice in her final solo, “Get Out and Stay Out.”
Jan Labellarte gives the strongest, most polished performance as the overworked, unappreciated, un-promoted Violet. She was genuine, and made good use of gestures and body language that were natural and appropriate to her character. Noteworthy is her speech about “the little guy.”
Kathleen Oswalt as Doralee, looked, talked and sang suspiciously like country singer Dolly Parton, who played the role in the 1980 movie, and wrote the music and lyrics for the musical that opened on Broadway in 2008. Oswalt kept us believing in her character from opening scene until curtain call: no small accomplishment.
As a trio, the three women were at their best in the hospital scene, which was crazy, energetic and very funny.
The set for “9 to 5,” designed by Alex Michaels and Marilyn Loose, is clever, effective, efficient and eye-catching without being distracting. It consisted of hanging panels that could be moved horizontally in back or in front of each other to designate different locations. The panels were decorated in rectangular shapes of varying pastel colors reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s stained-glass window designs.
Interestingly, the colors of the costumes, at least of the lead characters, mirrored the purple, pink, yellow, lime green and beige of the set panels. Costume designer Will Morris did an impressive job of dressing the cast members and ensemble not once, but several times, in work and street clothes, tuxedos, Western gear and animal costumes.
Morris also deserves mention for his lighting design that solved the problem of instantly switching from the real world to the various characters’ worlds of murderous fantasy. Scene locations projected onto the set’s back facade (Hart’s Office, Judy’s Joint) was a brainstorm.
Finally, special recognition goes to Civic Theatre’s orchestra, ably directed by Steve Reisteter. They couldn’t have done it without you.
Tickets: Civic Theatre Box Office, 527 N. 19th St., Allentown; CivicTheatre.com, 610-432-8943