Firebrand Theatre, which calls itself “the world’s first Equity musical theatre company committed to employing and empowering women on and off the stage,” closes its inaugural season with an incredibly uplifting and of-the-moment musical comedy based on the 1980 film. Penned by Patricia Resnick, with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, the show had a short run on Broadway in 2009. Firebrand’s production, under artistic director Harmony France’s direction, makes a stunning first impression with its cast’s gender and racial diversity.
Playing narrator Doralee (Dolly Parton’s role in the movie), a charismatic, straight-shooting Sharriese Hamilton paints a picture of life at Consolidated Companies, a typical 1979 workplace where women are confined to secretarial roles and subject to a disturbing level of harassment that’s more overt than what we’re used to in 2018 but still unnervingly familiar and uncomfortable to watch. The chief perpetrator is boss Mr. Hart, played by a slimy and bumbling Scott Danielson. For Doralee, the harassment takes the form of demeaning ogling and groping. For veteran Violet, played by a commanding Anne Sheridan Smith, it’s being passed over for a promotion. For newbie Judy, played by a wide-eyed and anguished Sara Reinecke, it’s verbal abuse that adds insult to injury after her husband leaves her for his secretary.
The three women eventually band together with a wacky plan to take control of their destinies, and the journey is an alchemic mix of cockeyed optimism, admirable grit, and empowering song-and-dance numbers. As Mr. Hart’s devotee Roz, Veronica Garza steals the show from an already inspired cast, eliciting uncontrollable laughing fits with her rendition of “Heart to Hart.” v