February 12, 2020

Theresa Java/Free Press
Christina Neel, left, and Mary Margaret Daly rehearse a scene from '9 to 5, the Musical.

Theresa Java/Free Press Christina Neel, left, and Mary Margaret Daly rehearse a scene from '9 to 5, the Musical.

KEY LARGO — The three lead women actors in the Key Players’ newest production, “9 to 5, the Musical,” say the comedic satire is as relevant today, as they comically wage war against their boss for workplace equality, as it was when the original movie was released 40 years ago.

In 2009, “9 to 5” hit Broadway with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, who also starred in the 1980 film and garnered two Grammy Awards for the film’s popular theme song.

The play and movie tell the story of female co-workers Doralee, Violet and Judy who form an alliance based on their strong mutual dissatisfaction with their workplace and their sexist and tyrannical boss Franklin Hart Jr. The three secretaries decide to exact revenge by abducting Hart and running the business themselves.

Mary Margaret Daly, a new actor with the local Key Players troupe, plays Doralee Rhodes.

“Doralee, who is Dolly Parton’s character, is hilarious,” Daly said. “It plays out where they take control of the office and make changes for the better. The office thrives and it’s sweet vindication.”

She describes the play as “very funny with a lot of heart.”

Daly, as part of the local troupe, started rehearsing in October.

“We started staging the play around Thanksgiving. Musicals are my favorite, and Franklin Hart is played by John Rudolph who has an amazing voice, even though his character is the villain,” she said.

Seasoned Key Players actor Cristina Von Essen plays Violet Newstead, comedian Lily Tomlin’s role in the film, with whom she personally identifies.

“I feel that playing Violet has allowed me to get in the first-person point of view of what women had to suffer through at the workplace back in the ‘70s. She [Violet] holds a silent battle against the ‘old boys club,’” Von Essen said. “As the play develops, Violet snaps and is no longer quiet about the way she feels. I feel we should all have a little bit of Violet in us. She’s strong, witty and very motivated, and I love her for that.”

Von Essen said, “Sadly though, playing this role has also reaffirmed our “millennial” feelings that in a lot of cases, not much has changed in terms of workplace equality.”

In Act II, Doralee and Judy encourage Violet to think about becoming the CEO of the company.

“C’mon Violet, dream big. Anything is possible,” said Daly with an imitation Southern accent during a recent rehearsal.

Key Players newbie Christina Neel joins the cast as Judy Bernly, who was played by Jane Fonda in the movie.

“It’s silly enough that it’s timeless, but it’s kind of sad that it’s still relevant,” Neel said in describing the play.

Neel, a recent college graduate, had never seen the movie until after she auditioned for the role.

“I love it, and then after I saw the movie, I listened to the Broadway track over and over again. I practice singing every day, usually in the car. I run through a song or two from the show or I do vocal warm ups. I probably go through my lines three or four times a week,” Neel said. “Being in a play is a lot of memory. You have to memorize not only your own lines, but the other actors’ lines that cue you.”

Recently employed Neel has drawn some connections of her own between life and character.

“This is my first job after graduating college and it’s [Judy’s] too since her husband left her. Playing this role makes me feel that there are others out there living in parallel universes,” she said.

Neel changes costumes nine times throughout the show.

Craig Zabransky who plays Judy’s ex-husband, said, “We have four costume racks. There are 20 actors who change costumes multiple times throughout the play.”

That’s a lot of planning and alterations for Lily Cascamo, who volunteers as the costume designer. She has been scouring thrift shops and closets for months.

This is the Key Players’ biggest musical production in four years. There are 20 actors, a custom-built retro set design, a large rented projector with more technical components and hundreds of hours of rehearsals into this play.

“We are going for all the effects to make it feel authentic,” Zabransky said.

Coral Shores High School student Julien Baidet plays Joe, a supporting character who has a love interest in Violet. Jenny Lea Brown is the choreographer and the musical director, who also performs in the ensemble.

The volunteer actors formed a mass caravan last weekend to transfer the stage design, costumes and props from the Key Largo Lions Club to the government center auditorium where the show takes stage next week.

The Key Players first performance of “9 to 5, the Musical” is set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20. Additional showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22; 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23; and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27, through Saturday, Feb. 29. All performances are at the Murray E. Nelson Government and Cultural Center, 102050 Overseas Highway, in Key Largo.

For more information, to order tickets or for ticket locations, visit thekeyplayers.org.

tjava@keysnews.com