Workplace dramas built on laughs and gags almost never enlighten us as much as those centered on tragedy and no-nonsense plot. Given the drudgery of most work, that's not such a bad thing.
Only the strongest of constitutions want their heart broken through "Death of a Salesman." The lukewarm joy of watching Don Draper and his merry crew of "Mad Men" is the smug pleasure of sensing that we no longer live in an America so sexist, racist and homophobic.
We've yet to see a successful musical about working-class tragedies, such as New York City's Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911, in which 146 garment workers died needlessly, much less Utah's own Crandall Canyon Mine disaster of 2007. The wear and tear a psyche endures working years without a day off, much less a raise, pales in comparison.
If Ricky Gervais, the evil genius behind both the U.S. and UK versions of "The Office," has taught us anything, it's far better to lance the tender boils of workplace tensions and laugh in horror than rage against the machine.
The humor of "Nine to Five" the 1980 movie hasn't aged as well as comedies of its era, e.g., "National Lampoon's Animal House." But that's no crime. The way it put the concerns of working women at the forefront was far more significant.
If it had to spread its concerns across three characters, that was no crime either. Judy is the humble but confused divorcée; Violet the headstrong widowed mother painfully aware she's underemployed. Together with Doralee, the Dolly Parton stand-in who wants simple respect apart from her physical attributes and the basic freedom of work without sexual harassment, they collect their wiles to show the boss who's in charge.
"9 to 5: The Musical" resurrects the songwriting and screenwriting duo that made the film successful, with Parton summoning her country-music prowess for new songs and Patricia Resnick writing the book. But while the film worked as a fun story about twisting a comic corkscrew into revenge fantasies, the musical numbers in the stage production tend to slow down the momentum of its comedic sequence.
This happens throughout Act I, even with its dizzying scene changes and at least 10 songs. The tone is marred, too, by the fact that there's nothing funny about the sexual harassment endured by Doralee, played persuasively by Angie Winegar in the Monday-Wednesday-Friday production.
Perhaps audiences circa 1980 could grimace and guffaw when office boss Franklin Hart drops pencils only to see Doralee get down on all fours to pick them up. Three decades later, it's merely pathetic. The show shifts rather clumsily between comedy, when the trio vents and then plots against Hart, and pathos, when each woman pines for respect and a world where "dreams and plans are in the making."
Winegar proves a singer of marvelous talents in songs such as the countrified "Backwoods Barbie." To a lesser degree, so, too, does Bonnie Whitlock as Violet in the show tune "One of the Boys," although it's her spitfire way with office politics that Whitlock truly shines in the role. Adrien Swenson as Judy strains against a few numbers, and her journey from docile to decided doesn't always convince, but her portrayal ends on a strong note with the divorcée anthem "Get Out and Stay Out."
Matched with Hale Centre Theatre's stunning sets always a strong point this regional premiere production of "9 to 5: The Musical" doesn't punch straight to the center of every scene before punching the clock, but like a week's vacation, it breathes strength and song into the plight of workers abused, underappreciated or just plain tired.
'9 to 5' regional premiere
R Through Sept. 29. Monday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m. with Saturday matinées at 12:30 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Where • Hale Centre Theatre, 3333 S. Decker Lake Drive, West Valley City.
Info • $15-$24. Call 801-984-9000 or visit www.halecentretheatre.org for more information.
Bottom line • A competent and enjoyable regional premiere of the popular Broadway musical that, while not strong throughout, is worth the price if you take along the working woman in your life. Two hours and 20 minutes including a 10-minute intermission.