When my husband found out that Dolly Parton wasn't actually in 9 to 5 the Musical he decided not to go with me. Little did I know that she actually would be in the show, in the form of Megan Hilty's Doralee (the Parton role in the original film). Hilty brings an uncanny bang-on homage to the real character that Parton has developed for herself throughout her career. She has the twang and the attitude down to a tee.
Full disclosure is in order here, I am a huge fan of Dolly Parton. I'm sure some of my theatre colleagues and friends are rolling their eyes at this point. But come on, what gay man doesn't like Dolly Parton? Honestly. It's like a rule.
Marc Kudisch and Kathy Fitzgerald in 9 to 5 the musical
Photo: Joan Marcus
In the show Janney, Block and Hilty are conniving to get rid of their boss, Franklin Hart, Jr., played with male chauvinistic piggy perfection by Marc Kudisch. After Janney accidentally poisons him with rat poison the ladies decide to tie him up in his own house while his wife is away on a four-week cruise. Complicating matters are Mr. Hart's fastidious and devoted assistant, Roz, played with complete comic abandon by Kathy Fitzgerald.
In the role of Violet, Janney lacks a confidence in her singing but still creates a dry, sardonic character that you end up rooting for. Stephanie J. Block as Judy does an admirable job until she sings "Get Out and Stay Out" at which point she completely brings the house down and becomes the character you were rooting for her to become.
The lyrics and music by Parton span a range of styles and serve the musical well, however, the same cannot be said of Joe Mantello's direction and Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography. The show feels unbelievably rushed. You don't see a scene end that one of these ladies isn't running from the stage for a costume change. Blankenbuehler's choreography is herky-jerky but considering that he has to make these actors dance in, on and around a constantly moving, maze-like set by Scott Pask, doesn't help.
Megan Hilty, Allison Janney and Stephanie J. Block in 9 to 5 the Musical
Photo: Joan Marcus
Normally I don't pick on a single element, but in this case, it is just so hideous I can 't help it. This show has got to have the ugliest show curtain in the history of Broadway. It is ropes hung across the entire front of the stage with telephone receivers attached. To make matters worse, lighting designers Jules Fisher and Kenneth Posner have lit it with squares of light. To the positive, Peter Nigrini and Peggy Eisenhauer's digital backdrop is terrific and used to great effect throughout the show. This seems to be the season that projections and LED digital walls have come into fashion. Side note, interesting to see Jules Fisher paired with someone other than Peggy Eisenhauer, his usual co-designer.
As I write this there is a debate happening on Facebook as to whether or not 9 to 5 was robbed of a Tony nomination by Rock of Ages, this season's jukebox musical. I always think it best to give the Best Musical honor to a show with an original score. That said, both these musicals are an enjoyable evening. Go see 9 to 5, chances are you will have a great time if the audience's response the night I saw it is any indication.
In other reviews...
David Rooney for Variety writes "The principal asset in 9 to 5: The Musical is unquestionably the beloved screen property on which this eager-to-please adaptation is based. The popular 1980 fem-powerment farce about three renegade secretaries who turn the tables on their chauvinistic boss was driven by three iconic performances, and the women who step into those heels here do dandy work re-creating those characters with enough freshness to rise above mere imitation. If the material showcasing the trio is an uneven cut-and-paste job that struggles to recapture the movie's giddy estrogen rush, plenty of folks will nonetheless find this a nostalgic crowd-pleaser." Read the full review
Ben Brantley in the NY Times writes "Dolly Parton and Patricia Resnick’s musical adaptation of the 1980 movie about three women’s revenge on their sexist boss piles on the flashy accessories like a prerecession hedge funder run amok at Barney’s. Staged by Joe Mantello (who directed the fat fairy-tale cash cow Wicked), this show feels assembled by an emulous shopaholic who looked around at the tourist-drawing hits of the last decade and said: 'I want some of that. And that. Ooh, and can I have that, too?'" Read the full review
Michael Kuchwara for the Associated Press writes "Durn. You kinda want "9 to 5: The Musical" to be better than it is. Not that you won't have fun at this stage version of the 1980 feminist revenge comedy that was a hit movie with an impossibly catchy title tune. It's a certified crowd-pleaser." Read the full review
Joe Dziemianowicz for the NY Daily News "Is 9 to 5 as hip as TV's "The Office" or as joyously hit-filled as How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying? No, but if you're looking for a little diversion, it will do the trick from 8 to 10:15." Read the full review