Carolyn Anne Miller, Jaden Dominique and Lauren Blackman in “9 to 5 The Musical” at Maine State Music Theatre. Photo by MSMT/Jared Morneau Photography

Back before the proliferation of desktop computers, video conferencing and work-from-home options, the questions raised by office politics were a little more in-your-face. In the vision of Dolly Parton and her collaborators, the old-style push and pull between bosses and their underlings raised some serious issues but also provided material for uproarious entertainment.

A production of “9 to 5: the Musical,” created by Parton (music and lyrics) and Patricia Resnick (book), is now underway at the Maine State Music Theatre. It brings back most of the good, if dated, narrative parts of the original 1980 movie starring Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin while adding a ton of dazzling song-and-dance numbers in front of some sparkling sets.

Three female co-workers do battle with an obnoxious male boss and his obsequious female assistant in a time when women’s roles in the workplace were a topic of growing contention. Judy is a recently separated housewife desperate for a job. Violet is a single mom and a talented office worker who’s stuck in a “man’s world” with little hope for promotion. Doralee is a flashy blonde secretary who is too often judged only by her physical attractiveness, particularly by the sexist boss Mr. Hart.

Kenny Ingram directs and choreographed the colorful show with an eye toward balancing the sometimes slightly risqué but politically (for the times) spot-on comedy with fine musical theater moments when the stage really comes alive, enhanced by some spellbinding video projections.

Jaden Dominique touchingly brings her initially frightened Judy into a broadened identity with the help of Lauren Blackman’s Violet and Carolyn Anne Miller’s Doralee. Though it comes late, Dominique’s number “Get Out and Stay Out” is a showstopper. Blackman soars on “One of the Boys” and finally surrenders to romance on “Let Love Go.” Her performance adds a degree of appealing sophistication to a role central in the effort to liberate the workplace. Miller asserts she’s no “Backwoods Barbie” with a Parton-esqe folksy charm while characterizing Doralee’s part in a plot to set the boss straight as a “Cowgirl’s Revenge.”

Kevin Earley’s blustery Mr. Hart may claim to be “Here for You” to his workers, but his ultimate comeuppance establishes his place as the comic heavy of the show. Maine State Music Theatre favorite Charis Leos returns as Roz, who’s infatuated with the boss but is no match for the office women once they identify a way to succeed. Leos comedic sprinklings throughout lead to a major moment on her musical lament “5 to 9.”

Of course, the major musical takeaway of the show, the classic Parton song “9 to 5,” gets a full-throated run through backed by an energized band led by Aaron McAllister.

This production succeeds as timeless entertainment containing a still resonant message about equality in the workplace.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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