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A CurtainUp Review
9 to 5: The Musical
By Elyse Sommer
The show didn't blow me away as completely as it did our Los Angeles critic. I found the staging too razzly-dazzly, the dancing too hyper-kinetic, the singing over-miked and the overall more brassy than artful. That said, while it may not be as artistic or have the long running bring-the-whole- family appeal of The Lion King or the more recent movie-cum-musical, Billy Elliot, Nine to Five has enough going for it to fill the seats of the huge Marquis theater for a decent run.
To get the show off to a memory jogging start and bring it to a happy conclusion, we have Dolly Parton's Oscar-nominated theme song "9 to 5," along with more than a dozen other catchy Parton numbers. While the country music superstar who made her screen debut in the movie isn't on stage, Megan Hilty's Doralee is a buxum, twangy facsimile. With Allison Janney and Stephanie Block to play the other two work place rebels with a cause, the irreplacable onscreen trio —Jane Fonda's Judy Bernley and Lily Tomlin's Violet Newstead— this musical adaptation hits the stage running with three hit-making assets in its favor.
If your idea of a successful adaptation of a movie is to follow the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mantra, you'll love how Patricia Resnick's libretto closely adheres to the screenplay that she co-wrote. The fairy tale about three secretaries who change their sexist workplace and give their odious boss the comeuppance he deserves may be dated, but it's ridiculously unbelievable enough to still be fun. Besides, while most of the abuses on display on stage have followed the wishes expressed in "Change It, " the present has its own overworked, under-appreciated and easily outsourced underdogs to make audiences not only respond to the fantasy scenario but desperately in need of a light and fluffy night out.
Parton's score, with its mix of country, rockabilly and Broadway-ish ballads, adds to the sense of visiting a beloved old friend. Though not as memorable as Elton John's score for Billy Elliot, Parton's tunes are consistently melodic, and her lyrics witty. For sure, some will be breakout numbers, especially "Backwoods Barbie", given that it's also the title of her latest album.
Hilty's Parton-essque Doralee twangs delightfully, and Stephanie J. Block showcases a lovely voice, especially when she lets her faithless, weaselly husband to "Get Our and Stay Out." But the big surprise and delight is Allison Janney. The tall, lanky Janney is more commonly seen in straight dramatic roles and best known as the White House press secretary in TV's long running West Wing. However, seasoned actor that she is, she sings with ease and clarity, and her comic timing not only equals Lily Tomlin's but stirs memories of golden oldie movies with Rosalind Russell and Eve Arden. When she dons a sleek white pants suit to lead the men's ensemble in "One of the Boys" you find yourself thinking about other musicals she could star in.
The large ensemble injects enormous energy in Andy Blankenbuehler's super energy consuming choreography. Kathy Fitzgerald as the secretary whose heart belongs to Hart makes the most of her "5 to 9" solo. However, less of her Roz would be more, which is true of some of the more obvious and vulgar sight gags.
Adding to the plus side of the ledger is the show's villain, the obnoxious Franklin Hart Jr. Marc Kudisch, whose powerhouse voice and well honed comic skills make him one of the busiest actors on and off-Broadway, does obnoxious so well that you almost love him. He played an overbearing, if not quite as despicable a boss in Thoroughly Modern Millie when it opened at this very venue seven years ago. Despite being willing to rape the secretary (Doralee) he lusts after and having to deliver lines like "you are nothing but a typewriter with tits," Kudisch manages to be as deliciously funny as he is despicable. The marijuana induced bonding of Janney, Block and Hilty is eye-catchingly translated into a wishful dream sequence for each woman. Happily Joe Mantello tightens his hold on the reins after the over-the-top first act, making for a better paced second act.
Scott Pask's set and William Ivey Long's 80's costumes are a good fit for this nostalgic story with its dab of social commentary. Come to think of it, Parton's lyrics for the title song include many a line that will ring a bell with anyone who's spent spent years waking up to "Stumble Out Of Bed/Stumble In The Kitchen/ Pour Myself A Cup Of Ambition. . ." and who ends up unappreciated and even unemployed because "t's a rich man's game/I don't care what you call it/And you spend your life Puttin' money in his wallet. . ." But forget that. Nine to Five is no melancholy exploration of our economy, but a chickflick show designed to make you forget your troubles.
To read the review of the California production go here.