‘9 to 5’ well worth the time put in

Photo by RACHEL CALANDRO/Layne Photography -- Jennifer Johnson as Violet, Kristy Coast as Doralee, and Jamie Leonard as Judy lead the cast of Theatre Baton Rouge's production of '9 To 5: The Musical.'
Photo by RACHEL CALANDRO/Layne Photography -- Jennifer Johnson as Violet, Kristy Coast as Doralee, and Jamie Leonard as Judy lead the cast of Theatre Baton Rouge's production of '9 To 5: The Musical.'

It’s pretty much impossible to think of “Nine to Five” without Dolly Parton coming to mind. She sang the hit song. She starred in the hit movie. She wrote the music and lyrics for the play, now on stage at Theatre Baton Rouge.

Fortunately for this season-opening production, she is there. Not Dolly herself, but a pretty decent imitation.

If Kristy Coast doesn’t share Parton’s most famous physical attributes, her spot-on portrayal of the entertainment superstar’s voice and manner help make “9 To 5: The Musical” a delight.

Under Jason Bayle’s direction, the play, which essentially tracks the movie plot with one twist, doesn’t lack for strong leading ladies — Jennifer Johnson as Violet, the widowed office supervisor, and Jamie Leonard as Judy, force to find work after her husband ran off with his secretary. Each creates a believable character. They resent the platinum blonde, voluptuous Doralee, which Coast plays with wide-eyed, country-girl innocence. All assume she’s having an affair with their egotistical pig of a boss, Franklin Hart (Albert Nolan), who spreads the rumor that this is true.

The play, like the movie, succeeds because it never takes itself too seriously. Hart’s chauvinism and their response is so over the top that it’s impossible not to laugh, and the dialogue and lyrics make their points about the status of women in the workplace in the 1970s without getting preachy.

Nolan bears an uncanny resemblance to Dabney Coleman, who played the boss in the movie, and he sets all the women’s teeth on edge except Roz (Erin Woolworth), who hopes in vain for him to view her the way he does Doralee. When Hart passes over Violet for promotion, instead choosing a man she’d trained, she fantasizes about poisoning him. When she fears that she may have actually done that to his coffee, it sets in motion a frantic, farcical give and take — Hart threatening them, the trio kidnapping him and, while he’s absent, running the office.

Lots of physical comedy ensues, and Nolan is especially good at this. A relationship blossoms between Violet and a younger co-worker, Joe (Richard Williams), who refuses to be deterred by her reluctance.

Musical Director Terry Bowman has a strong group of singers. Coast, Johnson, Nolan, Woolworth and Williams are veterans of TBR featured singing roles, and Leonard justifies her emergence from the ensemble shadows. No voice overpowers the others, and the harmonies are satisfying. They are bolstered by an ensemble that can sing well and dance well enough. The language and innuendo stay in the PG range.