Cincinnati Landmark Productions (CLP) has hit a home run with the debut of the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater this summer. As Artistic Director Tim Perrino announces from the stage most evenings, the three-show season will record 45 straight sold-out performances. Perrino and his crew have built a functional, attractive venue and programmed it mostly with shows to attract audiences CLP has catered to over the years with productions on the Showboat Majestic and at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts. The first two Incline shows this summer got it right — an ebullient staging of The Producers, the tongue-in-cheek celebration of showbiz, and a passionate rendition of 1776, a seldom-produced but engaging show about the founding fathers of American independence.
I’m sorry to say that the summer’s final offering doesn’t measure up to its predecessors. 9 to 5 is a 2009 musical based on the 1980 film featuring Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. The film succeeded because of their star power; the story of women being held back and put down by a chauvinistic boss was more timely 35 years ago — although some of those challenges are still with us. But the musical, using more than a dozen tunes by Parton, is stuck in another era. (It only lasted for four months on Broadway and lost $14 million.) If this show had opened at the Incline back in June, I’m guessing the demand for tickets for the balance of the season would have been considerably less.
Three fine singers have taken on the central roles. Courtni Nicolaci is Doralee, the curvaceous secretary originated by Parton, a spunky woman assumed to be having an affair with the pig of a CEO. Michelle Wells is Judy, Fonda’s uptight movie role, recently divorced and lacking in self-confidence until her newfound friends help her get some backbone. Cheryl Salzman is Violet, the “head secretary” role that Tomlin created, someone who gets things done but is unappreciated and unrecognized. Individually and together they belt out Parton’s countrified tunes. (Parton is present via video — part of the production package that comes with this show — looming over the proceedings to set up the story.) Her presence doesn’t do any favors for Nicolaci, saddled with an unfortunate and unattractive wig to recreate the singer’s portrait of Doralee.
The women’s stereotyped roles are reduced to comic caricatures rather than real women fighting for credibility. It doesn’t help that the 21st-century script is peppered with wink-wink references to technology (answering machines) and terminology (“24/7”) that was nonexistent in 1980.
Allen R. Middleton, as the women’s outrageous creep of a boss Franklin Hart, has the comic timing and manipulative presence the role requires, but the character is so overstated that it’s hard to do much with it beyond bluster. The same could be said for Lauren Carr as Roz Keith, the “office gossip,” a character that could have more dimension — she’s enamored of the boss — but is relegated to being a unhappy comic foil.
The Producers and 1776 at the Incline had excellent and coherent ensembles; 9 to 5 has a company that doesn’t hang together effectively. Some actors play multiple roles (one plays Violet’s teenage son but is also an office coworker) in ways that are a bit confusing. The performance I attended the night after opening still felt ragged vocally and choreographically. What’s more, the show’s uncredited scenic design and execution are shoddy, using ill-fitting sliding panels reminiscent of amateur productions that look glaringly out of place on the Incline’s sleek stage.
Since the Incline’s tickets are already sold for all of 9 to 5’s performances, a wobbly production is not immediately troublesome. But I hope Perrino and his team choose shows more carefully and strive for consistent quality onstage. The upcoming “District Series” for 2015-2016 is interesting, but mixing serious dramas (William Mastrisimone’s Extremities and David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross) with “adult” musicals (Rent and Avenue Q) could be a challenge for CLP’s usual audiences.
Perrino has taken advantage of the hoopla and bumper crowds to announce the Incline’s 2016 Summer Classics season, with productions expanding from three-week runs to four. Cole Porter’s 1934 classic Anything Goes, set aboard an ocean liner, sets sail in June, followed by a July staging of Baby, an ensemble musical about the stresses and joys of parents-to-be. The summer will wind up in August with Chicago, Kander & Ebb’s great Roaring Twenties’ tale of murder and sensational journalism. Those sound like good choices. Let’s hope for the best.
9 TO 5 , presented by Cincinnati Landmark Productions at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, continues through August 30.