Strength in numbers. Typically, this platitude applies to sports teams and high-stakes projects, but it also proves true of the Boston College Theatre Department’s production of 9 to 5: The Musical. While each individual cast and crew member has substantial talent, the beauty of the performance rests in how these elements come together. From comedic and compelling relationships among the cast, to immersive set and costume design, to pitch-perfect music, 9 to 5 stands out as a fun, dazzling show put on by a supremely talented department.
9 to 5 relies on the relationships between characters, primarily the bond between the three leading ladies: Violet, Judy, and Doralee, played by Natalie Marsan, MCAS ‘21, Jessie Shaw, MCAS ‘19, and Elizabeth Koennecke, MCAS ‘19, respectively. Just as the beauty of the original 1980 film lay in the ability of three dynamic actresses (Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dolly Parton) to combine their talents and share the spotlight, so too does this production shine through the interplay of these characters and the strength of the performers. Genuine depth and development are seen throughout, as the women grow in their understanding of themselves and each other. These arcs occur not only in speech, but also in song; Marsan, Shaw, and Koennecke each have a chance to show off their vocal talents through passionate individual pieces, as well as outstanding group efforts like “I Just Might” and “Shine Like the Sun.”
The trio grows the most through their difficult relationship with their “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical, bigot” boss, Franklin Hart, Jr., wickedly portrayed by Tristan Horan, MCAS ‘21. Hart is the quintessential gross boss whose chauvinist and violent behavior would certainly merit a #MeToo in 2019. After being overlooked, demeaned, and preyed on by Hart, the trio fantasizes about how they would get their revenge while sharing a joint, courtesy of Violet’s teenage son Josh (Dustin Uher, LSOE ‘19). The fantasy sequence is a near-cathartic experience, as powerful for women today as it was in 1980. Hart is fed to a copier, branded, and poisoned to the delight of his employees, who have grown tired of his piggishness and poor leadership.
Hart is shadowed throughout by his fiercely devoted secretary Roz (Lexi Auth, LSOE ‘19). She is the eyes, ears, and iron fist of Hart’s mismanagement. Her performance is also an example of the strength in the peripheries of 9 to 5. While most of the focus is on the heroines and their piggish foil, characters like Roz, as well as Violet’s love interest Joe (Kyle Ronkin, MCAS ‘21), add depth and occasional levity, particularly when Roz professes her burning desire for Hart in her steamy solo, “Heart to Hart.”
In their fantasies as well as the realities of their work life, the women of 9 to 5 present a potential model for how to understand true feminism in 2019. Women can embrace their sexuality, like Doralee, or choose to focus on their own lives and careers, like Judy. While they may endure hardship, like Violet, they can also choose to move beyond it—as she does by accepting her attraction to Joe. While Hart presents the paradigm of how not to act in the workplace, the value given to the women's diverse paths in their private and professional lives serves as an important message at a time when detractors of the #MeToo movement complain about not knowing how to treat female coworkers. While it’s not a perfectly woke show, this feminist path forward shines through in 9 to 5, managing not to get lost in the catchy songs and impressive choreography by Director David Connolly.
Also promising are the talented younger cast members. Marsan and Horan both show immense talent as sophomore leads, and freshman ensemble members Campbell Smith, Madison Baker, Mae Harrington, and Catherine Marra are emblematic of the potential in the theatre department’s new blood. While the senior cast members deserve high praise for the dedication and skill they've shown over their BC careers, it’s reassuring to know that BC Theatre will continue to produce quality shows with these continuing cast members.
Of course, the virtues of 9 to 5 aren’t solely on stage. Also deserving acclaim is the excellent set and costume design, which simply yet impactfully set the scene of a late-70s office. Further, the pit orchestra under the direction of David McGrory deserves recognition for bringing the memorable songs of 9 to 5, written by Dolly Parton, to life. These less-visible details are what can make a good show into a great one, and in this case, did just that.
The strength of these elements shows what made BC Theatre’s production of 9 to 5 so excellent: the combination of many parts into one. 9 to 5 is a musical that requires not only individual talent, but also the ability to blend that talent into the fabric of the show. Whether that was the dynamic relationships between three lead actresses, the devotion of minor and background characters to their specific roles, or the hard work of the crew and pit, the BC Theatre Department was able to see the big picture and put on a fun, impressive show that has as much relevance today as it did in 1980. The cast and crew should be satisfied with their performance, and the Boston College community ought to appreciate the superb strength of its performing arts program. It doesn’t look like it will diminish in quality anytime soon.