Review: '9-to-5: The Musical'

January 14, 2011
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I was among the few who couldn’t stand the movie “9 to 5” when it was initially released in 1980. While I had no trouble with its politics (I’m all for equal pay for equal work) and I’m an admirer of both Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin, I just didn’t think the thing was very funny. Slapstick is an art and the Patricia Resnick/Colin Higgins story combined with Higgins’ directing just didn’t find a rhythm. By the time the trio of office workers were chasing a corpse around a hospital, I was cringing.

Okay, so the song was catchy. But surely the women’s movement deserved better than this.

Nearly thirty years later, I caught the musical version of “9-to-5” during its short Broadway run. Just about everything I didn’t like about the movie was still there, but that was tempered a bit by the presence of the charming Allison Janney (of “The West Wing” fame) and the spot-on Megan Hilty in the role Parton originated in the movie. With those two, and some catchy pop tunes, the show was tolerably forgettable.

Arriving in Indy in a revamped version, “9 to 5” has returned to its more annoying roots. Adding a video introduction and coda from Parton herself was a smart idea. But casting it without stars puts too much of a burden on the material. Dee Hoty, in the Tomlin role, is okay, but she doesn’t have the gotta-watch quality that made me actually care about the character when Janney played it.

A much bigger problem is “American Idol” vet Diana DeGarmo, who seems to have somehow gotten her voice lessons mixed up. Rather than a Parton-esque twang, she sounds more like Georgia Engel crossed with Shirley Temple. And she’s got none of Parton’s (or Hilty’s) appealing spunk.

Rounding out the core cast, Mamie Parris delivers nicely in the Jane Fonda role. But the part seems to have been tightened for the tour—or, at least, the focus seems less on the character. She does, however, manage to pull off “Get Out and Stay Out,” an ersatz-“I Will Survive” that serves as the show’s big eleven o’clock number.

As for the score, penned by Parton, the music comes across okay, but awful rhymes-- town/round, squirm/return, believe/deep, worth/hurt--that might be acceptable in a pop or country song clunk when coming from the stage.

The biggest problem, though, is consistency. There’s no defining tone for the piece. Some characters are anchored in reality. Others are unfunny cartoons—including a hiccup-ing drunken office worker has all the subtlety of Foster Brooks in his prime. And the curtain design signals some fun with the 1980 setting, but none is had.

In short, while “9-to-5: The Musical” isn't a "Happy Days" trainwreck. But it did make me yearn for the richness of “Legally Blonde.”

Your thoughts?

  • where is your sense of humor??
    It is fun and a great escape. How many of us do muse about abusing your boss?
  • Love it
    Wow Lou! "The richness of Legally Blond"? Less praise would be hard to come by. And from what I've heard, this vehicle lives down to it's poor reputation.

    P.S. I loved the movie especially Lily Tomlin's performance.
  • Not that bad ! It's a girl show anyway
    I was only 3 when the movie came out and went with my mother in law. She really enjoyed it. I thought it was good but not one I would die to go back to, but good for a fun evening out. LIGHTEN UP DUDE
  • Really disappointed, too
    I am right there with you, Lou. Check out my notes on the production here:

    I, on the other hand, absolutely LOVE the movie. Still do. I was very disappointed as well. I think the source material had much better possibilities as a musical. Unfortunately, things missed the mark.
  • Bleh
    Somehow, this doesn't surprise me... While a great screenwriter/lyricist/composer can generally transfer even so-so material from the stage to the silver screen (Pygmalion to My Fair Lady comes immediately to mind), going the other way is usually less than the original - sometimes its the technical difference between the two media, others it's a failure of adaptation, it seems. I always cringe when I hear of another "adaptation" - almost as much as when I hear of a "remake".... One I positively loathe is "Miracle on 34th St." - Ed Gwenn IS The Jolly Old Elf - Whatshisname in the 1994 remake (Richard Attenborough - I had to look it up on IMDB) doesn't carry it off at all. So, I'll give this one a no-go, as well...
  • 9 to 5
    Overall, we enjoyed ourselves. I didn't even realize that Doralee was played by Degarmo until I read your review! I thought there were lots of good laughs!
  • Did you have a migraine
    As for a bunch of us we had a great time, its a light hearted fun show. The stars are stars you should research their credentials before making comments that are uninformed.
  • wow
    Amazing how personally people take it when you don't care for a show that they enjoyed. Geez. Maybe they're justifying all the $$ they spent to see a tour show. In any event, Lou gets his opinion and readers can have theirs. relax, people.
  • Better than Broadway
    I saw the show on Broadway as well as opening night in Indianapolis. I thought the changes on the tour actually improved the show. First, some of the mediocre bits were cut out.

    Second, I have to disagree about Allison Janney -- she can't sing. She'd be terrific in a play, but not a musical. Perhaps she was having an off night when we saw in in NYC, but it her voice just grated on the nerves. But, then again, my opinions differ from a lot of Broadway fans - I can't stand Patti Lupone and I never liked Wicked - so what do I know?
  • I liked it
    I saw it in East Lansing, Michigan before the Christmas holidays. I thought the cast was very appealing, with Ms. Hoty, Ms. Degarmo, and Ms. Parris making a wonderful trio. Roz and the drunk office lady were fun. 9 to 5 won't get any complaints at all from me.
  • so-so material
    Tom: For the most part, I agree with you. But I wouldn't call "Pygmalion" "so-so material." Great stuff--and wish we could see more well-done Shaw around here.
    Thanks to all for chiming in.
  • star
    Barbara: Don't back away from your opinion. You have a right to it.
    Mike: I know the credentials of the cast of this show. I wouldn't qualify any of them as stars. To me, a star is someone who sells tickets. (That's different from "star quality," which I'm writing about in next week's IBJ.)
    I'm glad you enjoyed the show more than I did.
  • I enjoyed it!
    I saw "9 to 5: the Musical" at Clowes on Wednesday night but unfortunately will not have time to write about it in detail on my own blog until Sunday.

    I respect everyone's opinion here, but I want to make sure that mine is part of the mix for this show so I'll just share my short version here on Lou's blog:

    I had a wonderful time!

    I bought the CD on my way out of Clowes and have been re-living the enjoyment every time I drive.

    It is definitely a great show for "ladies' night out" but the man sitting next to me seemed to be laughing a lot and having a good time, too.

    I wish I had time to see this show again before it leaves Indy. (I am not rich, but sometimes, for me, time is harder to come up with than money.)

    Hmm...I wonder if there is a Saturday afternoon matinee?

    Hope Baugh
    Indy Theatre Habit

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