REVIEW: 9 to 5 the Musical (Broadway in Chicago)

     
     

Though uneven, show is still loads of nostalgic fun

  
  

9 to 5 by Dolly Parton - Broadway Tour - Bank of America Theatre

  
Broadway in Chicago presents
  
9 to 5: the Musical
  
Music and Lyrics by Dolly Parton
Book by
Patricia Resnick
Directed by
Jeff Calhoun
at
Bank of America Theatre, Chicago, (map)
through Jan 30  |  tickets: $32-$95  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Unless you were at Wednesday night’s opening of 9 to 5: the Musical, you probably didn’t know that January 19th is now Dolly Parton Day in the great state of Illinois. I’m sure Broadway in Chicago would suggest you celebrate the holiday by checking out the musical, based off the 1980 movie about female empowerment (and Dolly’s acting debut). For those who doubt the merit of a screen-to-stage to national tour musical, I hear you. But even though the show, with music and lyrics by Parton, can be wildly uneven, it’s still a lot of fun.

3 leads from 9 to 5 the Musical - Broadway Tour - Bank of America Theatre9 to 5 starts off brilliantly, but like most weekdays, it lags by the end. While writer Patricia Resnick tweaked the movie’s storyline (which was Jane Fonda’s pet project), the tale is mostly the same. To be blunt, this is not a musical that will be remembered. There are a lot of cracks and the story is jerky. In the short term, however, the show exudes laughs, razzle-dazzle, and, most importantly, heart. You leave the theatre satisfied, more or less. There is a reason shows like 9 to 5 are only in town for a fortnight.

The show’s plot follows three working women as they meet, hate their “autocratic, sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” boss, sort of accidentally kidnap their boss, and then take over (and successfully run) the company. Even though it came out just 32 years ago, at the time of the movie the idea of a female executive was implausible. Now, that’s not so much the case. There aren’t really any new ideas brought to the table by the stage adaptation, but it wraps up the old ones in new packages.

The first half is, dare I say it, sort of deep. It’s fascinating to watch the three women interact and build relationships. There is Violet (Dee Hoty), the head of the secretary pool who is waiting for a promotion. She is mildly irked by Doralee (Diana DeGarmo in Parton’s role), a blonde with a Texas accent and really big…hair. The last part of the trio is Judy (Mamie Parris), a recently divorced new hire who has never had a day job in her life. All of them chafe under their boss (Joseph Mahowald), who insults Judy, hires a young man over promoting Violet, and tries to bang Doralee every chance he gets.

What’s interesting is watching how the women treat and judge each other. One of the first things Violet teaches Judy is that she shouldn’t like Doralee. Thanks to stress, illicit substances, and a mutual hatred of the powers that be, they come together.

Then they kidnap their boss, everything gets ridiculous, and it all ends very quickly.

For her debut at penning a musical, Parton does a decent job. None of the songs are particularly memorable besides the titular tune that’s already a country/pop classic. The three leading ladies do a fabulous job with the material. Hoty possesses the best acting chops, exploring Violet’s vulnerabilities as well as her steely, case-of-the-Mondays demeanor. Parris does a hilariously neurotic turn in the Fonda role. The biggest surprise is DeGarmo. Maybe casting American Idol runner-ups draws crowds, but it usually just draws eye-rolls from me. Although untrained, the adorable DeGarmo pulled off the role with gusto and spirit. I would think that she made Parton proud.

Resnick pushes the show into campy territory far too much. At one point, each lady dreams up a plan for killing the boss, and each fantasy is given an overblown staging. Excesses like that tend to distract. The musical, in the end, seems more like a well-acted knock-off of the movie instead of a re-imagining. In that sense, it does its job.

  
  
Rating:  ★★½
  
  

 

Dolly Parton celebrates her 65th birthday on opening night

       
        

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