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9 to 5

Also see Sharon's review of Vanities

It is sometimes a little difficult to judge 9 to 5 by what it wants to be, rather than what I'd like it to be. On its own terms, it's actually pretty good. It's a cute, musical frolic through the 1980 movie of the same name. It largely tracks the scenes from the movie, with a trio of actresses as its center recreating the memorable film characters.

9 to 5
Megan Hilty, Allison Janney and Stephanie J. Block

There's Allison Janney as Violet Newstead, the long-term employee of Consolidated who still holds out hope that her boss will give her the promotion she deserves. Janney has Lily Tomlin's wry delivery down pat, and her laugh lines always land. She does miss a few notes, though, and her lack of dance ability is sadly apparent in "One of the Boys," her second-act number in which she envisions herself a successful CEO. The song itself is one of the best concepts for a song in the show, as the musical briefly veers away from remaining true to the film in order to musicalize a fantasy that really deserves the great big production number that it gets.

As the show begins, Violet is introduced to new hire Judy Bernly, the Jane Fonda role played here by Stephanie J. Block. Block's is the one performance in which her predecessor isn't really seen. Block creates a very fragile Judy, a woman who is joining the work force after her husband left her, and has zero self-esteem. She has the best song in the show, "Get Out and Stay Out," the big second-act number in which she finally discovers her own inner strength (and Block rediscovers her real voice, having sung with a more delicate touch for the bulk of the show).

Rounding out the trio is Megan Hilty as Doralee Rhodes, the boss's personal secretary. It isn't very hard to see or hear Dolly Parton in Hilty's Doralee—she's blonde, buxom, sweet as she can be, with a great set of pipes and a country twang. Indeed, Hilty sounds so terrific, it's almost disappointing that the ensemble sings the title song, rather than having it go to Hilty as a solo. (And why does she have offstage backup singers in "Backwoods Barbie," her declaration of self?)

Marc Kudisch is the villain of the piece, Franklin Hart—the sexist pig who won't promote Violet, bulldozes over Judy and can't keep his hands off Doralee. Hart is scum and revels in it; Kudisch plays it to the hilt, being the sort of comic book villain that actually deserves what's coming to him.

Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography is near perfection, using the office setting of most of the numbers to create workplace dances—where performers spin around and deliver mail, flip papers in sync, and pound their briefcases on the ground for rhythm. William Ivey Long's costumes (particularly in the opening number) reflect the cringe-worthy wardrobe of 1979. And Scott Pask's set (apparently the cause of the technical difficulties that delayed the show's opening) has many smoothly moving parts that create the necessary office spaces, and a huge upstage screen providing complementary images.

And with all that going for it, I still left wanting more out of 9 to 5. There's little in it that tries to be relevant to modern audiences; alternatively, it doesn't try to be a silly retro romp. It's just a straightforward musicalization of a nearly 30-year-old move, and it might leave you wondering why it was even attempted.

But that's just me. For what it is, it still needs a bit of work. Parton, taking on songwriting duties for the whole show, hasn't always succeeded. "Mundania," the song Hart sings when he's held captive in his own house, tries to be comic, but fails. (And it is not at all aided by Joe Mantello's staging, which suggests the women have hung Hart from the ceiling for a month, rather than leaving him in his bed and only setting off the restraint contraption when he threatens them.) A first act number, "I Killed the Boss," tries to make a refrain out of a one-line joke ("They're gonna have to fire me for a thing like that"), and other lyrics are somewhat clunky. First act revenge fantasies of the three women go on much too long, especially Judy's extended dream sequence. The thing we most remember from the film is that this is a story of three women who kidnap their boss, and the musical takes forever to actually get to that point.

There's a lot of laughs, some solid songs well-delivered, and some sheer entertainment at work in 9 to 5, but it needs some reworking to be the best film musicalization that it can be, and some rethinking if it wants to be more.

9 to 5 runs at the Ahmanson Theatre through October 19, 2008. For tickets and information, see www.centertheatregroup.org.

Center Theatre Group—Michael Ritchie, Artistic Director; Charles Dillingham, Managing Director; Gordon Davidson, Founding Artistic Director—by special arrangement with Robert Greenblatt, presents 9 to 5. Music and Lyrics by Dolly Parton; Book by Patricia Resnick. Based on the 20th Century Fox Picture. Scenic Design Scott Pask; Costume Design William Ivey Long; Lighting Design Jules Fisher + Peggy Eisenhauer; Sound Design John H. Shivers; Casting Telsey + Company; Imaging Peter Nigrini, Jules Fisher + Peggy Eisenhauer; Wig and Hair Design Paul Huntley; Technical Supervisor Neil A. Mazzella; Production Supervisor William Joseph Barnes; Associate Director Dave Solomon; Associate Choreographer Rachel Bress; Make-Up Design Angelina Avallone; Orchestrator Bruce Coughlin; Additional Orchestrations Stephen Oremus and Alex Lacamoire; Dance Arrangements Alex Lacamoire; Additional Music Arrangements Kevin Stites and Charles du Chateau; Associate Producer Kelley Kirkpatrick. Music Direction and Vocal/song Arrangements Stephen Oremus; Choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler; Directed by Joe Mantello.

Cast:
Violet Newstead - Allison Janney
Doralee Rhodes - Megan Hilty
Dwayne - Charlie Pollock
Judy Bernly - Stephanie J. Block
Roz - Kathy Fitzgerald
Kathy - Ann Harada
Anita - Maia Nkenge Wilson
Daphne - Tory Ross
Franklin Hart, Jr. - Marc Kudisch
Missy - Lisa Howard
Maria - Ioana Alfonso
Joe - Andy Karl
Margaret - Karen Murphy
Josh - Van Hughes
Dick - Dan Cooney
Bob Enright - Jeremy Davis
Tinsworthy - Michael X. Martin
Ensemble - Ioana Alfonso, Timothy George Anderson, Justin Bohon, Paul Castree, Dan Cooney, Jeremy Davis, Autumn Guzzardi, Ann Harada, Lisa Howard, Van Hughes, Brendan King, Michael X. Martin, Michael Mindlin, Karen Murphy, Jessica Lea Patty, Charlie Pollock, Tory Ross, Wayne Schroder, Maia Nkenge Wilson, Brandi Wooten.


Photo: Craig Schwartz


- Sharon Perlmutter






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