Diamond Head Theatre’s ‘9 to 5’ hits the right notes

(L-R) Jessica Cruz (Doralee), Drew Tandal (Ensemble), Mike Humerickhouse (Franklin Hart) and Michael Bingham (Ensemble), take the stage in DHT's 9 to 5: The Musical - onstage now thru April 21, 2013.

Left to right: Jessica Cruz (Doralee), Drew Tandal (Ensemble), Mike Humerickhouse (Franklin Hart) and Michael Bingham (Ensemble), take the stage in DHT’s “9 to 5: The Musical” onstage now thru April 21, 2013.

Remember the 1980s? Whether you were just a twinkle in someone’s eye or just a younger, more attractive version of yourself? The 1980s doesn’t care. The 1980s loves you. They remember you. And they brought you a present.

“9 to 5 : The Musical” is the musical theater adaptation of “9 to 5,” the 1980 comedy starring Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin. The story focuses on Violet Newstead, Doralee Rhodes and Judy Bernly, three women working to overcome the chauvinist man’s land that so pervaded the business world, manifesting most clearly in the form of their boss, Franklin Hart, Jr.

Those familiar with the movie (or Dolly Parton) will likely remember the hit theme song of the same name. For those out there worried about the integrity of the classic show being violated, the songs for the show were written by Parton herself. Parton even goes so far as to show up in a video appearance, which, while a bit disembodied and eerie, served to comfort and reassure the audience as to the shows authenticity.

There are certain directors in cinema whose movies I would see without knowledge of plot or cast. If I were to check the reviews for one of their shows before I see it, it would be as an act of anticipation rather than curiosity. Today, thanks to director Tammy Colucci, that list has expanded to include local theater. Colucci’s credits most recently include “Xanadu” and “Altar Boys” — all comedies that seem to carry with them a lighthearted, self-deprecating humor. Colucci’s productions have been among my most enjoyable theater experiences despite that I have little love of the script or music of the shows she ends up directing. Speaking specifically about this production, the choreography was silky smooth and wonderfully relevant. The comic instinct of the show was spot on, and uniform in the cast in such a way that it had to be director inspired.

Jessica Cruz does a truly impressive job in the role of Doralee Rhodes. In other hands, the role might be exaggerated and inauthentic; however, Cruz brings an honest feeling of friendliness and country charm to the character. Her singing was sweet and clear, and it had an authentic, country music feel to it that I did not anticipate finding or enjoying in local theater.

There was a surprisingly deep and well progressing character in Judy Bernly, played by Jody Bill. Judy mixes quite well with the other girls, and though somewhat withdrawn for most of the production, her personality and musical dominance pushes though during “Get Out and Stay Out,” the most emotionally and vocally powerful song in the show.

Contrasting quite forcefully with the others is the firm and professional Violet Newstead, played by Jennifer Sojot. Among the three, she was the least obvious caricature, often playing the straight woman to the comic antics of the others. Often this works quite well; however, at a few moments she seemed to hesitate and stumble in her lines.  It wasn’t often enough to make it an unsatisfactory performance, but the uncertainty did detract a bit from the strength of her character. Also, the romance between Violet and Joe, played by Peter Togawa, felt a bit unconvincing, and in these moments Sojot’s character didn’t seem very genuine. Her strongest moments were when she was with the two other female leads. Altogether, the personalities of the three mesh well and their chemistry was quite nice..

Sleazy and sexist antagonist, Franklin Hart, Jr., is played by Mike Humerickhouse. Humerickhouse does a good job hashing out the character, but often it felt unrealized. At times Hart seemed underpowered, and not quite as creepy and lecherous as the protagonists treat him. Put up against the very big personalities of the three leads, Hart seems a bit mismatched.

Standing out in the cast is Stacey Pulmano, playing Hart’s enamored secretary Roz. Her character was over the top and cartoonish, and if it was performed even slightly off it might have seemed out of place or awkward; however, I cannot imagine this role being played better. Every moment she was on the stage she dominated the room. I hardly would have expected it, but her song “Heart to Hart” was the most fun I had all night.

The ensemble did an altogether impressive job with the choreography. The female ensemble was particularly crisp, representing themselves wonderfully in the female dance numbers of “Heart to Hart” and “One of the Boys.” Among the ensemble, Samantha Stoltzfus stood out in her role as the barely functioning alcoholic, Margaret Pomerance. Even when just walking across the stage she has an undeniably strong and entertaining presence. As a whole, the entire ensemble worked very well together and managed to create an organic and believable world.

Speaking specifically about the script and music, “9 to 5 : The Musical” could never be named among my favorites. The contents are straightforward, and although interesting at points, other shows are better at being musicals, and other Dolly Parton albums are better at being Dolly Parton music. Though productions are often judged by the quality of the script or music, surprising productions like this remind me that a wonderful time at the theater comes not from a brilliant musical, but a brilliantly produced musical. This wasn’t a perfect musical, but it was solid, professionally done, and among my most enjoyable theater experiences. Regardless of how you feel about the movie or lighthearted musicals in this vein, I would recommend seeing it. It’s a great example of what theater should be.

“9 to 5 : The Musical” will be playing at Diamond Head Theatre until Sunday, April 21. Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at (808)733-0274, visiting DHT during business hours, or through its online box office. Further details about showtimes and upcoming productions may be found on its website.