9 to 5: The Musical

  • Date:
    April 1, 2009
    Review by:
    Tulis McCall

    How surprised was I? I A-D-O-R-E-D this show.

    Okay, so the story of women working in an office in 1979 and being asked to make the coffee and be the maid � which they are still being asked to do, only this time it�s by men AND women bosses � and being asked to blow the boss, and being asked to step aside when promotions are being handed out, maybe that doesn�t sound entertaining. But it is.

    9 to 5 is an old fashioned musical. This is a musical where it feels as though everyone sat down and said, �Let�s make a musical and do it all right.� And they did. In spades. The idea of Dolly Parton writing anything more than a frivolous tune can be laid to rest. Not only did she write some excellent music, but she found excellent partners in Patricia Resnick (who wrote the original movie script) and Joe Mantello whose attention to detail is given free glorious reign.

    Welcome to the world of 1979. Some reviewers may be too young to remember or care about that time. Jimmy Carter was president, hair was bad and fashion was terrifying. Women were just beginning to enter work places in a way that reflected who they were. Of course they were also running homes, most of them, which meant that, unlike the men in the workforce, women had two jobs by default. Violet Newstead (Allison Janney) is a single mother of a teenager and the office manager. Judy Bernly (Stephanie J. Block) is rebounding from a recent divorce and leaping into the secretarial pool with no experience. Doralee Rhodes (Megan Hilty), is a hick from the sticks whose breasts are every bit as real as her hair color, and whose idea of glam is Barbie. These three are pitted against their misogynistic boss, Franklin Hart, Jr., played a little too realistically by Marc Kudisch, and his repressed assistant, Roz (Kathy Fitzgerald).

    It�s a classic tale of the downtrodden taking on the trodders, and here it shoots into the stratosphere of fantasy. Killing the boss becomes an epic musical tale. Fantasizing about BEING the boss takes a chapter out of Mame or Hello Dolly. There are a few sweet ballads and an Elphaba solo that seems to have been written just so that Block can show off her pipes. (Both Hilty and Block were in various productions of Wicked)

    From the minute this show starts it snatches you out of your seat. The choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler (who also choreographed In The Heights) is more than choreography. It is a planet. None of the leads can dance, and they aren�t asked to. But they can act and move, and Blankenbuehler creates numbers in which they are allowed to shine because they are backed up by a team of dancers who have been given a story to tell.

    Allison Janney has a lovely voice, but she is no match for the two sirens which whom she is partnered so she isn�t given songs that take her out of her comfort zone. Duh. She IS a wonderful comedic actor and she gets plenty of chances to prove her skills. Stephanie Block has the difficult task of playing an innocent without being overly sweet and she balances herself perfectly. Megan Hilty must endure Hart�s ogling while defending her right to her choice of sartorial splendor. Another balancing act. As Hart, Marc Kudish, is perfectly revolting, but you have to admire a guy who will play a man immersed so deeply in self-reference.

    The script is not without its awkward moments. Some odd choices for song placement and story line pop up now and then. But the momentum of the tale swallows them up and sweeps us forward. The characters are each flawed and foolish, hopeful and determined . All of them are given moments of ignorance and moments of revelation. Even the evil Roz has two glorious musical numbers.

    The result is that although these are caricatures in a musical, they come across as characters. The magic happens when you start to see them as people you know, or people you are, and they become people you won�t forget.

    I actually tried to buy the CD � but it�s not out yet.

    Tulis McCall
     

     

    The new musical "9 to 5: The Musical" marks Dolly Parton's debut as a Broadway composer and lyricist. She added 16 new numbers to embellish her award winning 1980s famous film about the inequalities of women in the workplace. The trio of mistreated women that had everybody rooting for them in the 80s film as they plot to turn the tables on their egotistical sexist boss is recreated here with riotously funny results.

    Each woman has her own story to tell. Megan Hilty as Doralee does Dolly proud as the country girl with a big heart and bosom to match who's just misunderstood. Spurned as the office tramp who everyone assumes is sleeping with the boss, Doralee is never invited out to lunch with the girls. "Backwoods Barbie" lets us know again that we shouldn't jump to conclusions about people based on their looks.

    Allison Janney as professional office manager Violet wows everyone with her prowess as a song-and-dance woman and commands the stage just as well as she did the news center in TV's "West Wing." Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler of "In the Heights" has given Ms. Janney a whole new career as she struts her stuff in "One of the Boys," proving that women can indeed do anything they put their minds to.

    Stephanie J. Block tugs at our heartstrings as Judy, the newly divorced woman who has to enter a workforce for the first time and can barely answer the phone. No one is more surprised than Judy that she really can stand on her own two feet.

    The chemistry between the women works as they bond together to fight their common enemy. Marc Kudisch bares the brunt of their outrageous tactics as Hart, the heartless employer. When he's pleading for mercy, we almost feel sorry for him but we're too busy laughing to really care.

    Office antics and politics haven't changed much in 20 years, even if the glass ceiling has many more cracks in it today. In fact, many working 9 to 5 may seem like fewer hours than normal, especially if your office is in your house. But the theater is a great place to unwind. The show will leave you humming and smiling.

    Barbara Mehlman & Geri Manus

     

     

    "overinflated whoopee cushion"
    Ben Brantley
    New York Times

    "If you're looking for a little diversion, it will do the trick from 8 to 10:15."
    Joe Dziemianowicz
    New York Daily News

    "goofily entertaining show."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli
    New York Post

    "it plunges one into a mindlessly passive euphoria."
    John Simon
    Bloomberg

    "If seeing Y-chromosome-addled cartoon characters get their due is your idea of an empowering experience, or at least a good time, 9 to 5 has your number."
    Elysa Gardner
    USA Today

    "lavish and harmless entertainment"
    Linda Winner
    NewsDay

    "unquestionably entertaining and likely to be pleasing Broadway audiences for some time."
    Erik Haagensen
    Back Stage

    ""9 To 5" rates a 5 for content but the razzle dazzle factor earns a 9. Depending on your taste for mindless extravaganza, the show's overall score is somewhere in between."
    Roma Torre
    NY1

    "this overblown musical is bound to cause a division between critics looking for freshness and audience members all too eager for theatrical comfort food."
    Frank Scheck
    Hollywood Reporter

    ""9 to 5: The Musical" is a mixed bag. Savor it for Parton's songs and the three women who sing most of them. They make the case for the show being more than just another workday event."
    Michael Kuchwara
    Associated Press

    "The promising material and terrific performers are too often sold short by clumsy story-building, overwhelming sets and unfocused direction."
    David Rooney
    Variety