The energy went up with the curtains Saturday night inside New Milford High School's James Africano Auditorium as the young ensemble cast and crew delivered a meticulous, power-packed performance of "9 to 5: The Musical." Written by Patricia Resnick, with lyrics by Dolly Parton, this musical production marks the first time any high school in the country was given license to perform it.
Given that responsibility, and the heavy emotional and sexual undertones that define "9 to 5," it's hard to imagine a cast of teenagers being able to deliver a credible performance, but this isn't just any ordinary cast of teenagers. These performers rose to the material, brilliantly and affectionately capturing the tone and tenor of the times in a show that was solid and honest.
Despite the show being centered around three female characters and one bigoted male boss, the supporting ensemble cast members achieved pitch-perfect deliveries in their lines and their songs. Mary Costa in a small but memorable role as Missy Hart has an electric wit that no script could capture--her facial expressions and body language alone got the audience laughing.
In the role of Doralee Rhodes, senior Kassandra Appice roused the audience with her rendition of "Backwoods Barbie." That girl got voice and she held nothing back, bringing the audience to their feet on a number of occasions.
Junior Nichole Francisco as Violet Newsstead delivered a fiesty performance as the widowed office supervisor yearning to be recognized for her achievements only to be continually passed over. Another performer with an incredibly strong voice, Francisco is at home on the stage.
Jennilyn Robles, a senior in the role of Judy Bernly, a new secretary whose husband left her for a his younger secretary, gave a poignant performance about a woman facing her fears and taking them on.
Her clear, crisp voice nearly brought the audience to tears when she sang these lines in "I Just Might,"
"Still, I have to take a chance,
Putting fear and doubt aside,
Had no warning in advance,
Nothing left to do but try."
As the solo male lead, senior Greg Winkler as Franklin Hart holds his own in a cast of very strong and talented women. Any teenage male lead who can play a believable lecherous man and sing the songs his character does in front of an audience of parents and grandparents deserves special applause. He was comically brilliant.
However, the magical moment of the night goes to junior Angela Diekhaus who marks her theater debut in "9 to 5." Diekhaus was not playing the role of Roz Keith, the secretarial spy besotted with her egotistical boss, she became Keith and delivered a performance both scene-stealing comic and heartbreakingly real. Her overt disdain for the other women in the office coupled with her silent aching for Hart, resonated. Her dream sequence with Winkler was performed in perfect sync to the music and the emotion she was conveying in the number "Heart to Hart."
Directed by Jonathan Silver, NMHS 2005, produced by Alexander Diaz, NMHS 2003, lit by George Milne and orchestrated by Rob McClure, NMHS 2000, this trio of theater talent gave to those lucky enough to see "9 to 5: The Musical" a Broadway quality musical-theater experience.
Choreographer Liberty Cogen, turned every cast member into a seasoned dancer. There was not a beat missed or a step off, especially in the larger numbers. Jim Africano's set design was smart and well-done. The balcony was not only effective in keeping the characters and the story moving from one scene to the next, but also as a place where the ensemble cast could join the main characters in song without crowding the stage.
This production of "9 to 5: The Musical" is participating in the 2012 Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards for excellence in the production of high school musicals. Both Silver and McClure were recipients of this award for their appearances in NMHS productions. Silver, McClure and Diaz also received the Helen Hayes Theater Awards as NMHS theater performers.