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What a Way to Make a Living

ACE Pours a Cup of Ambition with 9 to 5

In the iconic 1980 movie 9 to 5, workaday heroines Doralee Rhodes, Judy Bernly and Violet Newstead (played by Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin) suffer under — and ultimately triumph over — their “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” boss, Mr. Hart (rendered to oily perfection by Dabney Coleman). It’s a classic film, with a title song that’s been scientifically proven to be the foremost go-to karaoke anthem of all time.

And now, like so many favorite movies and TV shows, our beloved 9 to 5 has received a Broadway musical work-over in an adaptation making its Eugene premier at Actor’s Cabaret.

With book by Patricia Resnick, who penned the original story for the movie, and music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, this 2009 show has a strong foundation. Unlike some musicals-based-on-movies that pad their songbooks with odd digressions, Parton’s Tony Award-nominated score is lively and fun, full of her patented accessibility and heart.

“Backwoods Barbie” expresses Doralee’s longing to fit in, and Michelle Sellers gives it a cheery Parton twang. In “Heart to Hart” we feel the unrequited heat that office lackey Roz, played by Maida Belove, kindles for her unctuous employer. Sue Schroeder-White as Violet relishes the thought of poisoning Hart in fairytale fantasy sequence “Potion Notion.” And we see Mr. Hart for the cad he is, as Michael P. Watkins slithers through “Here for You.” 

Director and designer Joe Zingo’s set is clever and detailed, sliding and rotating to create the “high-tech” office, Hart’s inner sanctum and his bedroom/holding cell. Costumes by Zingo, Mary Jensen and Anthony Krall evoke the shoulder-padded, pastel armature of early-’80s career climbing. 

The quartet of comedians inhabiting the film is admittedly hard to beat, so Zingo veers his leads away from celebrity imitation. Kim Fairbairn as Judy shows the greatest arc as the show progresses, moving from nervous divorcee to corporate doyenne. Fairbairn’s singing voice is balanced throughout, and a real pleasure to listen to. 

Vocal director Colleen Darnall Dietz guides cast members through the music, and while singing abilities vary, none are lacking in esprit de corps. — Rachael Carnes

9 to 5 plays through Feb. 14 at Actors Cabaret of Eugene; $16-$42.95, 683-4368.