Theatre Is Easy: “9 to 5: The Musical”

Written by Theatre, Theatre Is Easy

BOTTOM LINE: Check your theatre pretensions at the door.

Stephanie J. Block, Megan Hilty, and Allison Janney in 9 to 5: The Musical

Dolly Parton’s sassy new musical, 9 to 5, based on the 1980 movie of the same name, is about three ballsy ladies sticking it to their chauvinistic boss, Mr. Hart. Parton starred in the movie as Doralee, the big-boobed Texan with a brain. The other two women, Violet and Judy, were played by Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, respectively. Though not a particularly challenging story, 9 to 5 is an uplifting tale of girl power and, ultimately, women’s rights. And due to its cheery, happy-ending nature, it translates pretty effectively to the stage.

For what it’s worth, 9 to 5 is an enjoyable musical-theatre experience. Directed by Joe Mantello (Wicked, Assassins) and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler (In the Heights, this summer’s Encores! production of The Wiz), with a book by Patricia Resnick (who cowrote the movie), the musical is as schnazzy as you’d expect from an extravaganza with music and lyrics by Parton. It delivers glitzy Broadway pizzazz and still maintains that down-home, inside-jokey, fun-loving spirit the Nashville legend is all about.

The three leading ladies — Allison Janney as Violet, Megan Hilty as Doralee, and Stephanie J. Block as Judy — are all incredible performers perfectly suited to their roles. Janney gets the humor in Violet, and Hilty and Block both have Broadway-diva voices. They certainly make a solid threesome. Marc Kudish is also well cast as Mr. Hart, a despicable caricature the audience loves to hate.

Considering it’s a big, expensive production with big, impressive names attached, 9 to 5 has been relatively snubbed by the theatre community since it opened in the spring: it received mediocre reviews from critics and lost out on a Best Musical nomination at the Tony Awards. It has, however, received a great response from audiences; when I recently saw the show on a Tuesday, the house was packed and everyone was having a blast.

Parton’s music and lyrics are exuberantly sincere, and the score itself is pretty decent on the whole. “9 to 5,” the first song you hear in the movie, is also the opening number in the musical, and it plays throughout the production between scenes. As strange as it may sound, this musical really is all about the music: it provides a constant barrage of production numbers, power-ballad solos, and harmonic trios. Luckily, the entire cast is up to the task — they’re talented, capable, and fun to watch.

9 to 5: The Musical is a giddy theatrical spectacular and great escapist entertainment, and a good pick for out-of-towners who want to experience Broadway but aren’t theatrically inclined. It’s silly, pretty lowbrow, and filled with empty calories, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good time. Despite appearing underdeveloped and overproduced, it delivers an entertaining evening for anyone looking for an uplifting night out. Sometimes that’s all you need.

9 to 5 plays at the Marriott Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway, between 45th and 46th streets. Performances are Tue 7 PM, Wed and Sat 2 and 8 PM, Thu-Fri 8 PM, and Sun 3 PM. Tickets are $75-$125 and can be purchased at ticketmaster.com or by calling 1-800-982-2787, or you can win $36 tickets by entering the lottery that’s held at the 9 to 5 box office (click here for lottery info). Visit 9to5themusical.com for more show info.