Thursday, January 20, 2011

Hard Working Cast Fails to Make "9 to 5" Worth Promoting -- Theater Review

Theater Review

9 to 5: The Musical
Music & Lyrics by Dolly Parton
Bank of America Theatre, Chicago
Thru January 30

I think I saw the movie "9 to 5" once, but back near its 1980 release and I have no real recollection, other than that it starred Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton, who had a hit with the title song.

And while I have plenty of respect for Dolly--who in celebrating birthday #65 yesterday still looks good--for the longevity of her musical career, I've never been much of a fan.

So without any built-in familiarity or fondness--and while a show like this was produced to capitalize on such, it lasted just 5 months on Broadway and was well undersold on its first night in Chicago--I can only judge the stage musical on its own merits. Unfortunately, there weren't all that many.

That's not to say "9 to 5" is horrible; it isn't and the touring production features a fine enough cast to make it sufficiently fun. But it just isn't anything special.

The show opens with a video introduction of Dolly Parton accompanying the title song, which is by far the best one in a musical for which she newly wrote all the others. Some of Parton's other numbers work as passable show tunes, which is both a positive and negative at the same time. Dolly is talented enough to have written some nice melodies and well-crafted lyrics, but very few have the country-flavor one might imagine, nor as befitting the show's 1979 setting, any homages to disco or other sounds of the '70s.

For example, the late second act number, "Get Out and Stay Out" was a decent ode of female self-empowerment very well-sung by Mamie Parris as Judy Bernly (the Jane Fonda role). But in a musical that greeted attendees with a curtain adorned by '70s icons like Sylvester Stallone, All in the Family, Jimmy Carter, Burt Reynolds and Cher (unless I was right in thinking it was Linda Ronstadt)--it might have been shrewder had the song hewed closer to "I Will Survive" than just a typical Broadway torch song.

Multiple Tony nominee Dee Hoty was excellent as Violet Newstead (aka Lily Tomlin) and American Idol alum Diana DeGarmo sufficiently filled Dolly's bra if not quite her shoes.

Diana DeGarmo
But there was just something amiss about the flow of the show. I realize the narrative--and much of the dialogue--was likely matching that of the movie, but on-stage it didn't really connect with me. And I'm sure I'm being way oversensitive given recent real-life events, but for me the scenario of three terribly mistreated secretaries fantasizing about killing their boss, then kidnapping him at gunpoint and holding him hostage even bordered on bad taste. Maybe there just wasn't enough mirthful glee to their vengeance, but I almost felt bad for the jerk.

Despite the lack of any incumbent affinity for the source material, I was actually excited that Broadway in Chicago was presenting its subscribers with something new; a recently-created show with new songs and featuring a first-rate touring cast. But by intermission I was already looking forward to seeing Les Miserables for the sixth time, which I will in just three weeks.

And for those who might think it was my responsibility to know the movie going in, or that I would have better enjoyed "9 to 5: The Musical" if I had, "The Producers" and "Hairspray" are two examples of musicals I instantly loved despite not having seen their film inspirations. I also admired "Legally Blonde" and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" for the way they enhanced upon comedic films I only somewhat liked. So while screen-to-stage adaptations are being created en masse these days, in order to capitalize on built-in branding, I still think it's requisite that each new musical be able to shine within its own spotlight, even--or especially--to the uninitiated.

Thus, while I have no problem saying "Nice job" to the cast of "9 to 5," which also features some strong choreography by director Jeff Calhoun, I can't suggest you work really hard to see it.

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