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

January 14, 2011

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?

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