Friday, September 26, 2008

Reverend’s Reviews: Working 9 to 5

The recently released CD Forbidden Broadway: Rude Awakening,the 25th anniversary edition of satiric lyricist Gerard Alessandrini’s spoof of all things theatre, includes “You Can’t Stop the Camp.” Adapted from Hairspray’s “You Can’t Stop the Beat” and performed by actors impersonating Harvey Fierstein, John Travolta and Laura Bell Bundy of Legally Blonde: The Musical, it laments the seeming lack of original ideas that has led to an onslaught of new musicals based on movies.

It also names 9 to 5: The Musical (currently having its world premiere at Los Angeles’ Ahmanson Theatre through October 19) as one of the latest Broadway-bound productions destined to bear a “cute and cuddly stamp” in these shows’ efforts to reach the widest possible audience through their familiar titles and stories.

Having seen 9 to 5, I can assure Alessandrini and Co. that their fears regarding this particular film-to-stage transfer are largely, though not completely, unfounded. First, to answer the question most musical lovers have been concerned about: yes, Dolly Parton has written a (mostly) successful theatrical score! While her famous theme song from the original 1980 movieabout workplace and sexual politics of the time gets a bit over-used, her original songs for the theatrical adaptation are tuneful and similarly stirring.

Standouts include “Around Here,” in which new hire Judy Bernly (Stephanie J. Block, who doesn’t channel Jane Fonda so much as Mary Gross from Saturday Night Live circa 1987) is introduced to her office mates; “Tattletales,” a fun piece about the perils and delights of water-cooler gossip; “The One I Love,” in which the three leads sing about the current loves of their lives; Act One closer “Shine Like the Sun,” a powerful personal-empowerment anthem; and “One of the Boys,” a splendid piece showcasing Violet Newstead (a terrific Allison Janney, even if she’s the weakest singer in the show) à la Roxie Hart in Chicago’s “Roxie.” Block also gets to bring the house down with “Get Out and Stay Out,” in which she kisses her unfaithful husband, Dick, good-bye once and for all.

Completing the musical’s star trio of actresses is the excellent Megan Hilty. As Doralee Rhodes, the role Parton played in the movie, Hilty craftily pays tribute to Parton while making the character her own. She’s affecting as she sings the auto-biographical “Back-woods Barbie,” and hilarious singing “Cowgirl’s Revenge,” her dream sequence number is which she ropes the villainous Franklin Hart Jr. (a very funny, very physical performance by Marc Kudisch). Kudisch has his own standout musical moments in “Here for You” and “Mundania,” the latter of which he gets bonus points for singing while hanging and tumbling over the stage in leather bondage gear.

The only truly deficient song currently in Parton’s score (which could potentially be re-worked between now and the show’s New York opening next year) is “Let Love Grow.” An eleventh-hour duet sung by Violet and her significantly younger suitor, Joe (played by Andy Karl, who I didn’t recognize here as the actor who played the hunky UPS Guy in Legally Blonde: The Musical), it needs to go deeper in having the characters’ reveal their painful past losses rather than quoting Hallmark-card platitudes.

While reviewing 9 to 5’s score and cast, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the marvelous comedienne Kathy Fitzgerald, who plays Hart’s right-hand woman, Roz. Fitzgerald memorably played lesbian lighting designer Shirley Markovitz, among other roles, in both the stage and 2005 film versions of The Producers. Here, she gets the showstopper “Heart to Hart,” in which she declares her unrequited love for Franklin, as well as the clever “5 to 9,” which takes commitment to one’s job to new extremes.

9 to 5: The Musical avoids becoming camp, contrary to Forbidden Broadway’s prediction, thanks to Patricia Resnick’s book. I actually expected more jokes and over-the-top retro fashions playing off the musical’s “Carter administration” setting than there are. While the book could be accused of hewing a little too closely to the screenplay, and Act One is too long at one hour and 45 minutes compared to Act Two’s speedy 40 minutes, Resnick has nonetheless done an admirable adaptation.

While Joe Mantello’s direction is typically efficient and keeps the proceedings moving, recent Tony winner Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography is a disappointment. It borrows appropriately from funk and disco stylings of the time, but I got the impression Blankenbuehler’s moves and, subsequently, the dancers were more constricted than they need be.

Lastly, scenic designer Scott Pask’s sets are problematic. The first LA preview of 9 to 5 was delayed a week and problems endured through the show’s official opening night due to set-related technical problems. It can’t be denied that Consolidated Industries’ offices — with their mobile desks, rising pillars, lowering light fixtures and working elevators — are impressive. However, I found myself fearing at times for the actors’ safety as well as the show’s integrity.

Such criticisms are minor, though, compared to the overall crowd-pleasing impact of 9 to 5: The Musical. It isn’t quite a “Well-Oiled Machine” (another of the show’s production numbers), but it provided me and the audience with which I viewed it a thoroughly enjoyable night at the theatre.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the show's official website. And for more 9 to 5: The Musical on Movie Dearest, be sure to check out Chris' interviews with the show's librettist, Patricia Resnick, and the show's producer, Robert Greenblatt.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

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